Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Saturday, 25 January 2014

"pH miracle" Robert O Young, of live blood analysis fame, arrested and charged in January 2014

Update: 14 March 2016 - Robert O Young is currently in jail after being found guilty on two charges of practising medicine without a licnse. He was acquitted on the third charge, but will now face another six charges (include theft by fraud). He's also being sued by one of his former patients. His activities are catching up with him. Source: pH Miracle author to face new trial


I first came across Robert O Young a few years ago while working at Diabetes UK. My job was to answer people's science-related enquiries and one or two had come in from people wondering about a book by ROY, for which the promotional material had claimed all sorts of weird and wonderful cures. The claims were fanciful, the biochemical information was poor and the evidence was patchy - but I could see why it was popular.

A number of my complaints to the UK's Advertising Standards Authority have been about organisations offering live blood analysis and one or two of the practitioners reference Robert O Young (he runs courses in teaching people how to offer live blood microscopy to their clients). Since these courses don't actually teach much genuine information about either microscopy or making sense of blood smears there are an awful lot of people who have been ripped off to the tune of several thousand pounds, but at least they have a microscope and plenty of willing punters, so the ripping off continues, albeit unwittingly.

Robert O Young arrested and charged on Thursday 23 January 2014

This morning I spotted on Twitter that he had been arrested at his 'avocado ranch', where he has a kind of treatment clinic, and charged with 18 counts of practising medicine (at his clinic) without a license, and also charged with theft.

According to the PDF press release (see below) two people went undercover to find out more about his practices and this led to an investigation and his arrest.

There are at least two UK live blood practitioners who've said in their publicity material that they were trained by Robert O Young, wonder if they'll amend that in light of his recent arrest.

He's been arrested before I believe, and managed to get off so possibly he won't be serving the predicted 15 years and 8 months in prison after all. 

If you know anyone who's spent money being treated by 'Dr' Robert O Young then the District Attorney is keen to hear from them - 619) 531-3507.

He refers to himself as Dr Robert O. Young however his doctorate is not equivalent to the qualification of a medical doctor. He has a PhD (which does entitle him to use the Dr prefix) however he received this from Clayton College, the same unaccredited diploma mill from which Gillian McKeith received her PhD. They also gave him a masters degree, a DSc and a 'Doctor of Naturopathy'. Goodness knows why, these do not appear to be 'real' degrees. For comparison you might enjoy Wikipedia's List of Animals with Fraudulent Diplomas.

Further reading
"Prosecutors asked that anyone with information, including possible victims, contact the District Attorney’s Office at (619) 531-3507."

Sunday, 19 January 2014

A collection of examples of data, and metadata, giving away more information than intended

Fascinated by this sort of thing and I've written a few posts on various examples of 'leaky' information. Over the New Year I thought it might be interesting to collect some together and I've been doing so - here's what I've got so far. Please suggest others in the comments and I'll add them, thanks!

This is a continuously updated post as I come across other examples.

Page last updated: 11 October 2019. 1 March 2015

Articles by date (most recent first)

10 October 2019
Stalker 'found Japanese singer through reflection in her eyes' BBC
The singer posted a selfie, presumably using a fairly high res camera. Her stalker zoomed in and found reflected in her eyes the name of the train station she was in. He found where it was via Google, lurked there waiting for her to arrive there, then followed her home and attacked her.

25 February 2015
Celebrities paid to promote new HTC One M8 “Champions League” model both prefer iPhones instead TechDigest
Although official Twitter apps mostly don't tell you which app someone else is using to send tweets from (it used to, then stopped), plenty of other apps do include this information. If you're promoting a particular phone and tweeting from another... watch out.

25 February 2015
Michelle Obama, Reese Witherspoon and other celebs are leaking location information on Instagram Fusion
Referencing the Associated Press' extraction of location data from photographs uploaded to Instagram by Rep Aaron Schock, the author had a look through the Instagram location data for a few celebs and found that they were giving away the location of where the photo was uploaded (not necessarily where the photo was taken). From the maps it appears that the pinpointing is perhaps a bit more accurate than anyone might want, so check your Instagram settings (the teardrop map pin icon). While you're at it, if you're on an iPhone do Settings > Privacy > Location Services and if you have location services on, click on it to see what apps have access and have recently used it.

5 December 2014
Fabulous stuff from Ben Goldacre about apps, medical data and what we share about ourselves unwittingly (and what others share about us).
"At the simplest level, even the act of putting lots of data in one place – and making it searchable – can change its accessibility. As a doctor, I have been to the house of a newspaper hoarder; as a researcher, I have been to the British Library newspaper archive. The difference between the two is not the amount of information, but rather the index."
Date unknown
Tell-all telephone Zeit Online
German politician Malte Spitz sued a mobile telephone company to get hold of his data. He shared this with Zeit who mapped it and you can follow, thanks to the GPS info and internet use of the phone, where Malte was at different points throughout his working day.

25 July 2014
Cat stalker knows where your kitty lives (and it's your fault) NakedSecurity (hat tip @zeno001)
There's a site called 'I know where your cat lives' which helpfully points out that geolocation data in Flickr and Instagram can narrow down where you live quite a bit. See also the entry about John McAfee in the 4 December 2012 entry below.

11 July 2014
Met Police encourages Twitter pile-on Storify
Using . before @ when sending a tweet means that the tweet is 'surfaced' to all followers who are currently paying attention. This can be used well but in this particular case, a combination of unwise use plus a snarky response led to a complainer being exposed to unpleasantness. That this has happened on several previous occasions has called into question whether this is an appropriate way to handle complaints in public.

9 July 2014
Yo messaging app used to alert Israelis about incoming rocket attacks The Independent
(Discovered this via BBC Magazine)
"Yo users in Israel and abroad can now add the user name REDALERTISRAEL on the app to receive push notifications on their smartphones whenever a rocket is inbound.

The notifications are an example of what fans of the app call “one-bit communication” - messages that have no ‘content’ apart from the fact of their existence. These rely on both the recipient and the sender knowing the context of the message – such as using a dropped call to let someone know you’re outside their house."

As a child I and friends would give our parents 'three rings' on the telephone to let them know we'd safely arrived at another's house, as long as no-one answered the phone doing so was free.

7 May 2014
Glass Reflections in Pictures + OSINT = More Accurate Location IOActive Labs Research
"The aim of this article is to help people to be more careful when taking pictures through windows because they might reveal their location inadvertently." - a series of examples of how to use Google Maps, hotel review sites, hotel websites and other corroborating information from social media to work out where you're staying (and which floor, even which room / suite) from the photo you've just posted to Instagram about your amazing hotel view and the reflections of the room itself in the glass windows ;)

OSINT means Open Source Intelligence (Wikipedia link)

15 April 2014
The (Unintentional) Amazon guide to dealing drugs Atlantic
Amazon's "customers who bought that also bought this" algorithm conspires to link purchases of a set of weighing scales to other items one might use in the genre of drug dealing, and suggest those items to users who look interested in the scales.

25 March 2014
Taking steps to prevent re-identification in genomic research Wellcome Trust blog
"...But when data from multiple sources is available, it may, in certain circumstances, allow a more complete picture of an individual to be pieced together. This could result in some confidential information being linked to an identifiable person."

12 March 2014
Volunteers in metadata study called gun stores, strip clubs and more Ars Technica
Relatively small study (500+ participants) of mobile phone metadata which turned out to be extremely revealing.
" lays bare the fallacy of the Supreme Court’s mind-numbingly broad wording of the third-party doctrine in an age of big data: just because I reveal data for one purpose—to make a phone call—does not mean that I have no legitimate interest in that information, especially when combined with other data points about me.”"
Spotted via Ben Goldacre's tweet.

2 February 2014
#Awesomestow has yr neighbour @ no38 recently changed their front door+extensive refurbishment? Pls RT & find culprit
— St James St BigLocal (@stjamesbiglocal) February 2, 2014

Possible solutions to this one would seem to be (a) remove the 3 and the 8 from your door (though it would be easy enough to work out the numbers from the fading pattern below) or (b) don't dump in the first place. No idea if the culprit will be found and it's enitrely possible that the homeowner paid someone to clear up in good faith and the fault lies with someone else. Interesting use of Twitter anyway.

24 January 2014
Tweet exchange with @fitnessbird Twitter
This is an unconfirmed Twitter report that Colindale Metropolitan Police were able to cross-match someone's Twitter name with their name on Facebook from which they got their location, and somehow managed to narrow it down with their Tesco clubcard. I've no idea how this works but presume the Police are able to access stuff that the rest of us can't.

21 January 2014
Suspect shares Police Facebook status about him, is quickly arrested Gawker
Police published a photo of A. James L.. and must have been a bit surprised to see a Jimi L... posting it to his own Facebook timeline.

8 January 2014
Facial recognition app matches strangers to online profiles Crave - CNET
Point your cameraphone at someone, get information about them including their dating profiles (if they have any).

5 January 2014
Slide from @kurtopsahl via Twitter showing the importance of metadata, from this tweet, eg "they know you rang a phone sex service at 2.24am for 18 minutes. But they don't know what you talked about."

4 January 2014
"The audacity of Cameron and hypocrisy of ‘help to buy’ ilegal
Piecing together, through social media, the possibility that someone presented as being helped to buy a flat was already well-placed to buy it. However, further discussion on Twitter suggested that the land registry record would not have been updated in time if the property had been bought in December. See also this strong critique of the original article.

3 January 2014
David Cameron’s internet porn filter is the start of censorship creep The Guardian
Highlighting that information must presumably be collected on who has and who hasn’t signed up to what sort of internet censorship.

2 January 2014
How Netflix reverse engineered Hollywood The Atlantic
Not so much "data giving users away", more about getting a better understanding of how a company handles its information, and about tools that can be used to access info.

January 2014
Data protection Duck Out Information Commissioner’s Office
Dumb examples of “we can’t do that … because data protection”.

30 December 2013
Elastic Pathing: Your Speed is Enough to Track You arXiv
Traffic driving patterns gleaned from in-car speedometers provided by insurers can give information about the trips taken raising privacy concerns.

4 December 2012
McAfee's Rookie Mistake Gives Away His Location TechNewsDaily
From Wikipedia "Vice accidentally gave away [John McAfee] location at a Guatemalan resort in early December 2012, when a photo taken by one of its journalists accompanying McAfee was posted with the Exif geolocation metadata still attached"- hat tip @axiomsofchoice

27 November 2013
While my prof was setting up for his lecture high-blogging high-blogging
Found via this tweet “Lecturer who knows everyone reads his filenames off the projector when he's setting up”.

9 June 2013
Using metadata to find Paul Revere Kieran Healy’s blog
Nice example, written in the style of 1772, on ‘social networke analysis’ and what info might be gleaned from little more than people’s names and the groups of which they’re members.

1 June 2012
The perils of sharing URLs - beware
I entered my postcode into a volunteering site to find out about opportunities near me. I spotted something not of interest to me but possibly of interest to some of the people I know on Twitter and at the point of sharing the URL spotted that it still had my full postcode in it. Each page I clicked on 'inherited' my postcode data, so I had to remove it manually before sharing it.

16 February 2012
How Target figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did Forbes
People suddenly stop buying contraception and start buying vitamin pills, that sort of thing.

25 November 2011
How a friend's hacked Facebook account can compromise your privacy and security Facecrooks
If your friend can see your information, then so can the person who's broken into their account. Your privacy is only as strong as the weakest link among your friends, so to speak ;) See also Don't assume that your private Twitter account is all that private (by me, on this blog).

15 November 2011
Andy Baio: Think You Can Hide, Anonymous Blogger? Two Words: Google Analytics Wired
Given that Google Analytics codes are unique with just the suffix changing for second, third and so on websites it can be easy to link one website (with public contact info) with another website (presented as anonymous). My Google Analytics code for this blog is UA-16665982-1 (you could find this easily for any website by viewing its sourcecode - on Firefox hit Ctrl+U, or Command+U if on a Mac) - I've just managed to find another website I manage, by using this UA information...

3 July 2009
Dear Garry. I've decided to end it all: The full stop that trapped a killer Daily Mail 
Forensic linguistics used to spot differences between how people who've been murdered typically express themselves and their murderers' impersonation of them in suicide notes, dissembling text messages etc.

Added 6 December 2014
9 May 2009
""The paper clip serves impartially in all areas of the law," he (Jay Stein) writes, "but the record shows that it appears especially often in some. In evidence cases, the 'clipping' function has figured prominently. In one, marking with paper clips and underlining certain passages was evidence that the plaintiff had read a letter in question. In another, a page of an exhibit bore a paper clip imprint not found on the first page."

Sometimes, the paper clip was of even greater import. In one lawsuit, in 1967, "determination of the validity and intent of a will depended on attachment of a paper clip to make a letter a part of the will by incorporation"."

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Example email I sent requesting a CC-licensed image to be appropriately credited or removed

Almost all of the images I've posted to my Flickr account are licensed under the Creative Commons license that lets the image be used by anyone for any purpose (including commercially), as long as the use doesn't imply that I've endorsed a product or anything. Beyond that I don't get to determine how the image is used.

Creative Commons
The deal is that anyone using my photo needs to credit me and link back to the page on Flickr from which the image comes (ie Flickr gets a credit too, fine by me). If the image will be used in a printed publication then (a) I probably won't know about it (but people sometimes email which is nice) and (b) I'd probably be less bothered about the link back, but 'Flickr user Jodiepedia' would be a bonus. If someone makes a particular request about not crediting for some reason then it's within my 'power' to grant that (eg where it just wouldn't look right etc). People can remix my images but they have to apply the same license that I've given them (or seek extra permission from me).

My images and photos aren't great quality (I'm mostly using an old iPhone camera whose lens is scratched and my pics are getting blurrier) and I'm not a very good photographer. The reason I make them available under a CC license though is not just because they're a bit rubbish but because I've benefited hugely from the internet so this is a teeny tiny contribution back to it, I suppose.

Finding images used but uncredited
Today I found that a website has used one of my images without proper accreditation. This annoys me as it's just lazy - there's even a template code provided by Flickr that can be inserted that does all the work for you, so really no excuse. The website admin didn't need to contact me for permission or check anything, just copy and paste so... grrr.

With the newer DMCA take-down notices it's a lot easier to be very aggressive in getting images removed from a website. In fact the webhosting company typically takes down the entire site until the image is removed - it's a little bit too aggressive for me to be honest, although I imagine it gets the job done very effectively.

Initial action taken
I've gone for the amiable "I say, would you mind awfully..." approach in the first instance - I'm sure it's an error rather than someone deliberately trying to avoid crediting me / Flickr (I mean why would they, it's not like anyone can reasonably pretend the photo is theirs since it's datestamped on my Flickr page). 

Feel free to pinch the text below (and no, you don't have to credit me!) if you think it might be useful in a similar situation, and good luck with getting your pics credited or removed (or paid for if you have a payment arrangement in place).

After the draft email is some background information about the image involved, and why I am keen for it to be attributed correctly.

What happened next?
Nothing for a week. I then looked up the website's registration details (DNS lookup) and found another email address. By writing to that address I was clearly 'escalating' matters, I asked them if they'd be able to help me resolve the matter as I'd not heard back after my initial request. Delightfully they were, and the image is now properly attributed and we're all best pals.

Email text


Thanks to a reverse image search I've noticed that you have used one of my images on your website, here: [URL of website]. I'm delighted that you've done so.

As my images are licensed under Creative Commons that is perfectly fine, however the terms of the license mean that you do need to credit me and Flickr (where the photo is hosted) and you also need to link back to the original image site. You do not need to pay me or Flickr to use the photo though, it's free.

My photo (original here: URL of image) appears on your website without credit.

Please credit this photo correctly (see below) or remove it. 

How to credit the image
The simplest thing to do is to add a piece of text like "Photo credit: Flickr user YourName" and hyperlink to the web address given above. Alternatively, you can use the embed code found on every CC-licensed photo and add that into the text of your post (using the html edit view) and the picture will automatically appear, with the correct attribution and link back. Please let me know when you have done this.

Many thanks,

Background to the image

Acai berries will not help you lose weight

The image in question (above) is one that I drew myself in PowerPoint and uploaded to amuse myself. It's meant to look a bit like berries, specifically Acai berries, that are often sold in pill form to people who are trying to lose weight. They don't work (of course) and who knows what weight loss pills bought from the internet might contain, but I noticed that pill sellers often used free images. This suggested an opportunity to have a little fun.

I've created a few images that state on them things like 'diet pills do not work' and uploaded them under a CC license in the hope of finding them in use on websites (and appropriately credited of course). On many of them I also included comments about why these products don't work, in the hope that anyone seeing them might be dissuaded from wasting money on them. I'd certainly not pretend that this was a particularly successful strategy (and I've really no way of knowing if anyone decided not to buy because of the image) - but it amused me, and to me that's pretty much the most important thing ever ;)

More on sneakery in the service of skepticism

Fives - a game I played with my parents when little

I can't remember when I started playing this with my parents, probably in single digits. It's not the most thrilling of games, compared with the excitements of iPads and games centres but it's quite a satisfying logic puzzle, and can probably be adapted for younger children (see below).
  • It's a two person game.
  • Each person thinks of a five-letter word where no letter is the same, eg house, knife, apron, films etc (generally we excluded plurals but of course "she films the event" gets round that!)
  • Write your word down on a piece of paper, kept hidden from opponent, also write, on same piece of paper the alphabet in full.
  • The first player takes it in turn to say another five letter word (anything except proper names and this time it can include words with the same letter in multiple times, such as PUPPY) and the second player says how many letters in that word are also in their word, but not which one*.

Eg, your hidden word (my target) is FILMS
  • In my first guess I say POPPY - there are no letters in common, and I can cross off O, P and Y from my list of letters.
  • (Then you have your turn)
  • In my second guess I say PUPPY (I already know that P and Y aren't in this, so this lets me determine if O is there or not - again no letters in common and in two goes I've crossed off four letters, two of them vowels.
  • (It's your go)
  • I guess POEMS - you tell me there are two letters in common with my word, though I don't know which. I know P and O are not in it, leaving E, M and S so I need to find a word to help me work out which.
  • (Your go)
  • I try POESY (we're allowed archaic words) and you tell me there's only 1 letter, but is it the E or the S?
  • (Your go)
  • I try SOPPY - you say 1 letter is there, so I know that S is IN your word, definitely, still have to find a way to guess whether the other letter is E or M.
  • (Your go)
  • I try QUEEN - you say no letters, so I know it's not the E (and therefore must be the M) and I've also eliminated Q, U and N as well (in total E, N, O, P, Q, U and Y eliminated)
  • and so on... 
  • You can continue playing until someone gets their word or carry on until both people have.
In fact PUPPY and POPPY were pretty much how we always started the game, so we might as well call it the puppy opening gambit :)
Sometimes you try a word with lots of common letters, to open things up a bit and find new some letters to work with, other times you're playing a much tighter game (eg POPPY and PUPPY) to try and pin down or eliminate a particular letter. Sometimes you might want to check something and use a word to confirm you're right about a particular letter, eg at the stage I've left it at the word OPENS should have only 1 letter in common with yours. This doesn't really tell me anything new (I already knew from SOPPY that it had an S in it, but confirms that S is and O, P, E and N aren't - assuming I'd not made a mistake).

*Adaptations for smaller people
For younger children who perhaps don't have a wealth of 5-letter words to hand, you could let them pick any word they like, and take turns in saying other words. Or you could just say which letter is there (eg S is there, but O, P, E and N aren't), or even which position it's in in the word ("the letter S is at the end of my word"). You could just guess letters ("is J in it?" and so on).

You could also do a variation of hangman but instead of hangman call it something less murderous, like swing game, so that with each turn (whether or not successful) you're building a swing for a stick figure to swing on.

In both games - fives, and 'swings' you get to see a copy of the full alphabet in front of you which possibly helps with letter familiarity. 'Swings' might be a good way to show the importance of vowels, and letter frequency. Fives has a bit of 'strategic thinking' about it, if played as outlined above, so possibly needs more adaptation for little children.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Blocking someone on Twitter - what can they see?

by @JoBrodie,

Hello if you've arrived here after clicking on the link in the @FriendlyBlocker account. I don't log into it very often but let me know on @JoBrodie if you want me to block your account and if I'm at work or doing stuff we can arrange a time later - or if you're really keen to see blocking in action immediately I recommend using a spare email address to set up another account and run some tests yourself.

This is my main Twitter account at @JoBrodie

I can also occasionally be found at @FriendlyBlocker although that's a spare account that I use only for testing purposes. It looks like this:

The @JoBrodie account has blocked the @FriendlyBlocker one so, when logged in as FriendlyBlocker here's what I see when I look at 'JoBrodie' - not much.

I can't see any tweets and there's a message saying "You are blocked from following @JoBrodie and viewing @JoBrodie's Tweets. Learn more".

Does this mean I can't view @JoBrodie's tweets? NO!

All I have to do to see @JoBrodie's tweets is one of the following

1. Search for the tweets
Type, into the search bar (or go to from:jobrodie and all my tweets will appear (I can also type jobrodie to see all the tweets I've sent or that have been sent to me).

2. Log out / use a different browser or an incognito tab (without logging in)
Log out on your browser
Once you've logged out Twitter no longer knows that you are 'you' and so it can't know that someone's blocked 'you' and will show you all their tweets 

Open a different browser
If you're not logged in, it's as above - Twitter doesn't know you're you

Open an incognito tab on the browser you've got open
A private or incognito tab won't log you in (unless you log yourself in) so is the same as above.

3. Use a different account to log in with
Similarly if another account hasn't been blocked you can use that to view someone's tweets

4. Use a third party app
Twitter's block appears to be very 'effective' on desktop Twitter and apparently it's fairly variable on Twitter for iPhone (don't have an Android or other phone or tablet so limited testing I'm afraid). If I'm logged in as @FriendlyBlocker and try and view @JoBrodie from Echofon, Janetter or Osfoora on iPhone I can see both the profile page and all the tweets.

In my test set up I've used my account to block FriendlyBlocker but if you're testing the block system then FriendlyBlocker will block you, so you need to try and view the tweets from the @FriendlyBlocker account, not mine.

Here's a screenshot of what I can see on Echofon, I can click on the tweets and see all of them as well. Echofon lets you see everything (same for other third party apps I've tried).

Please note
This post has been significantly updated and altered from the original (published on 14 January 2014) and as such all comments below, before 14 December, will now be out of date and possibly irrelevant.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Delighted that #WDDTY have reported on the #AllTrials campaign

In the past I've been a tiny bit(1) critical of both the content and editorial stance of the magazine 'What Doctors Don't Tell You'.

I am really pleased though that they've recently acknowledged (admittedly indirectly by not actually mentioning them by name) the work done by Ben Goldacre, Sense About Science and many others to put pressure on the pharmaceutical industry, via the Government, to make its full trial data available, not just the good bits.

Here's what's on WDDTY's website - UK government demands drugs industry comes clean on hidden data(2) (7 January 2014) What Doctors Don't Tell You 
The first paragraph mentions that the UK Government wants greater openness from pharmas after having spent £424m stockpiling Tamiflu without being able to be certain if it works.

The second para mentions that the Public Accounts Committee wants all trial data from all prescription drugs published.

Then it cuts off and the last bit is hidden behind a login but this is visible on cached copies, or from this copy. WDDTY highlights the source of the news is the BBC's website, from 3 January 2013.

From a search on the BBC's site I assume it's referring to this page - Lack of drug data 'extreme concern' (3 January 2014) BBC News which mentions all the stuff above (Tamiflu, £424m, Public Accts Cttee, concern at lack of data) and it also mentions the AllTrials campaign which WDDTY leaves out in a sort of reverse cherry-pick manoeuvre.

The AllTrials campaign has been running for over a year now and many organisations have signed it, though I don't believe WDDTY have done so yet. This is both expected and surprising. Expected because the campaign is organised by people and organisations that WDDTY is critical of and has been criticised by, and surprising because the campaign is aimed at the pharmaceutical industry. Given that WDDTY sets itself contra 'Big Pharma' it would seem they'd want to be involved with something that's allied to their goals, however I suspect it will be a while before there's any 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' type of rapprochement.

A number of people have posted information to WDDTY's Facebook page about the AllTrials campaign although all of these messages appear to have been promptly removed and those posting the information have also been blocked. I did try to post information there but had already been blocked (and yes, I was polite in my disagreements), so blogged about it instead back in October.

Still, it's good news that they've now decided to highlight the aims of the campaign even if they've been a smidge untransparent about its origins, it's a start I suppose.

(1) OK quite a lot
While there's some good sense in the magazine this is spoiled by an awful lot of very poor advice floating around in a marinade of ambiently bad advice. There's been a tendency also to overplay fairly small studies and not really put them into contex, which can be very misleading. On top of that several of the companies advertising in the magazine have made some claims that were not quite as they should be. Consequently there have been a number of complaints made to the Advertising Standards Authority upheld and recorded as adjudications on their website.

The editors have also behaved quite unusually when people have asked for evidence or pointed out discrepancies.

They've also claimed that skeptics are trying to 'ban' the magazine (I'm not aware of anyone who's actually called for that, if they have it's certainly not been picked up and campaigned on). Everyone's perfectly happy that the magazine should be printed, it's been published for 20 years for subscribers after all, but doctors / scientists / skeptic bloggers etc are concerned at it being given a prominent place in supermarkets, a kind of endorsement. I don't want it banned, I just don't want it sold in supermarkets.

Annoyingly, and I think misleadingly, the promotional material that WDDTY have been putting out about their magazine uses this claim that people are trying to ban the magazine. I think that's a bit cheeky.

(2) This is a 'do not link' link. Amusingly WDDTY's editor, Lynne McTaggart, has claimed that skeptic bloggers use this form of linking to do SEO damage to the magazine. The link cannot do that, it merely doesn't add any extra 'google juice' to the link. Whenever a site links to another site that's recorded by search engines* as the first site recommending the second. Using a neutral link means there's no recommendation, but equally there's no damage.

*Or at least has been recorded in that way in the past, search engines are changeable beasts.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

How to watch #Sherlock when someone else is in charge of the TV remote ;)

I often watch television programmes on my laptop, at the time they're broadcast (with a tiny delay), via my home wifi. This is entirely legal as long as you have a TV license, which I do. I use TVCatchup to do this but I've just discovered today that you can also watch BBC programmes live on the BBC's website. (Also other channels but I'm writing this 20 mins before Sherlock starts).

Since I'm still away from home over the festive period and there's competition for the television tonight I'll be watching Sherlock through my laptop and paying attention cos I still find it all pleasantly bewildering, although I'm getting on a lot better than I did first time around ;)

1. BBC's website
a) Have a TV license
b) Go to and the programme will auto-start - no need to register or log in. If you're a few minutes late hover over the playing window and click the 'restart the current programme' option.

Lots of background Sherlock information is available on BBC's site, including link to watch S3E1, The Empty Hearse (you can still watch it for another two weeks):

2. TV Catchup's website
a) Get this all set up in advance - you need to register first and there are a couple of adverts to sit through before the programme shows.
b) Have a TV license
c) Register an account (free) with username, email address and choose a password
d) Pick your channel from the channel options page - note that there are several versions of BBC One: BBC One, BBC One Wales, BBC One Scotland and BBC One HD.

Enjoy :)

Series 3 Music
Sherlock Original TV Soundtrack - Music From Series 3 [Soundtrack] - CD

At time of writing the CD is Amazon UK's best seller for TV soundtracks (but note it's updated hourly) - pic taken at 8pm :)

I took some screenshots, below.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Crossing Globe Road near Stepney Green tube station - it could be a bit easier

I'm really crap at crossing roads, I can't read the traffic signals (never learned to drive) and so tend to cross with an above-average amount of caution, and often plenty of mocking from whoever's with me ;)

Whenever I'm crossing an unfamiliar road where the traffic looks a bit confusing I tend to wait until a 'crossing cycle' has ended so that I can watch how it starts and see when it's supposed to be safe for me to cross.

The first time I encountered Globe Road, which is stage left of Stepney Green station's exit on Mile End, I realised that I was going to have to make a bit of an effort rather than meekly wait for my allotted time. In fact there isn't an allotted time for pedestrians and we must judge for ourselves when the occasional break in traffic will let us cross. Generally I just wait until a bus on Mile End Road travels past heading towards Mile End station / Bow Church (fortunately this happens regularly) and cross under its 'cover' as nothing can drive in or our while one of those goes past in parallel.

There are several traffic routes into and out of Globe Road:
  1. Traffic turns left from Mile End Road into Globe Road, coming from the direction of Stepney Green
  2. Traffic turns left from Globe Road (by Ladbrokes in picture below) onto Mile End (it cannot turn right onto Mile End)
  3. Traffic turns right into Globe Road, driving across Mile End Road, from the opposite side of the road.
I bet that's a bit confusing, let's have a picture.

Pinched from Google Maps with green arrows drawn on by me.

Traffic waiting to turn right into Globe Road (number 3 in the list) is the cyclist and three silver-coloured cars facing towards the photographer (Google Maps).

All three traffic routes are controlled by traffic lights however as far as I can see, after two years of using this crossing, there is never a point in the cycle where they all stop at once to let pedestrians cross. Pedestrians must wait for Globe Road exiting traffic to be stopped, then keep an eye on the other two directions.

After seeing a cyclist dust himself down after a minor collision (didn't witness the actual collision) I wondered how many accidents there might have been at that crossing. I then wondered if the confusion about when to cross means that we're all a bit more careful, resulting in fewer accidents. I had a lot of time to wonder about plenty of things given that I was standing at the crossing at the time hoping for a break in the traffic ;)

There's a page on Tower Hamlets' website which has information about requesting a new pedestrian crossing:
"A pedestrian crossing cannot always be provided in the location requested. Following a request, each site is surveyed and the results compared with national criteria to judge whether the location is appropriate.

The main factors measured are the number of people crossing and the amount of traffic. Other factors include the number of injuries on the road near the site, sight lines for approaching traffic, parking demand and local features such as hospitals, schools and shops.

Once the site is approved funding will be sought for implementation."

So I asked them if they'd build me a proper pedestrian crossing!

"Dear [blah]

[Pre-amble bit asking where the actual online form was for requesting a pedestrian crossing]

...My request relates to Globe Road, off Mile End Road, just by Stepney Green station. It's a bit of a mess to be honest, in terms of knowing when to cross safely. I've no idea how many accidents there are though my request is prompted by seeing the post-incident events last week when a cyclist with a grazed leg and a bent bicycle was chatting to a policeman about his recent mishap.

It's quite possible that there are relatively few accidents for the simple reason that, with so few clues for pedestrians to know when it's safe to cross, their attention to the road is heightened - mine certainly is. However because there's no timed opportunity for pedestrians we are waiting for a natural lull in traffic, or when someone lets us across, or when a bus is passing (blocking off entrance in or out of the road thereby making it safe to cross).

My request for a crossing is perhaps less to do with avoiding accidents (I'm all in favour, obviously) but more with just making it easier to get to the other side.

I note that the first line of the criteria relates to 'the number of people crossing and the amount of traffic' but that doesn't take account of the type of traffic at that crossing. There are three routes in or out of the road and the flow of the lines of traffic seems to be sequential but without including a sequence for pedestrians (or at least it's not at all obvious). This means that there's no point at which it's guaranteed that no traffic will flow in or out, which makes it a bit hard to cross. It's not really the amount of traffic that's the problem, it's that it's coming from all directions.

Fit young people don't worry about these things and zip across the road, confidently negotiating breaks between cars. Relatively fit and relatively young people like me manage well enough but I think a crossing here would make it easier and pleasanter for everyone to get to and from Stepney Green station.

I've attached a picture [it's the one above - Jo], it's a screenshot of Google Maps streetview with green arrows stuck on (by me) to show the three sequences / directions in which traffic flows. There is clearly a crossing there, but no timed sequence or visual cues for pedestrians to guide them when it's safe to use it.

Many thanks,

They acknowledged my email and then a short while later I got a nice response from them with a bit of information from Transport for London inserted into it. Since the exchange was all good-humoured, and I can kind of see their point, I'm not going to name names or post the entirety of their response - but here is a summary of some of the comments made:

They (TfL) have previously (recently) looked into the feasibility of introducing a pedestrian crossing here (1) but despite large volumes of pedestrians using it, few collisions (see below) have happened and, for several reasons, the resulting report was 'no' to a special pedestrian crossing. They did like the idea of there being a 'green man' installed to enable vulnerable users to cross safely and at a reasonable pace however the report concluded that to do so they'd have to ban left-turning traffic from Mile End Road into Globe Road. Alas this would need to be enforced (because motorists tend to ignore these, apparently [!]) and we'd end up getting into a bit of a problem with diverting traffic onto other residential streets / massive queues and general woes. If an opportunity arose to improve the crossing they'd be up for that I think, but I suppose there's unlikely to be one.

Those who like walking can walk further into Globe Road and cross a bit further down near the Post Office where it's slightly easier (there's no pedestrian crossing there but it's a nice straight line of sight so at least the cars aren't turning into you at that point), but not ideal for anyone with mobility issues. (They didn't suggest doing that by the way!).

(1) I wonder what prompted them to look into it - perhaps they periodically go through all their crossings and review them, or possibly lots of other people have asked.

Cyclist accidents - at January 2014
1 accident involving a cyclist on Globe Road and 9 at the junction with Mile End Road in the last 3 years. 

Possibly this didn't include the cyclist I saw, either because of the timing or the non-severity of his collision - he was chatting to a Police Officer / Community Support Officer but they might have just been checking he was OK rather than taking a report. There could be umpteen near-misses (2) or minor prangs / dented wheels that go unreported.

Pedestrian accidents - at January 2014
4 collisions between pedestrians at this junction in the last three years - this is apparently lower than the rate of pedestrian accidents at other similar junctions.

I don't know how similar they are (traffic volume, right next to a tube station, three traffic streams), also I don't know how seriously hurt the people were, I'm guessing it's a bit harder to be a near-miss if it's a car rather than a bicycle that's colliding with you.

(2) near-misses are by definition rather under-reported - because people avoid disaster and survive - yet information from them can be extremely useful. 

Edit 15 November 2014
I realise that visually impaired people will have a particularly difficult time in getting across as they can't judge how quickly a car will turn into Globe Road and whether or not they've got a chance to nip across - also I'm assuming that the car-that's-turning-in is sufficiently far away and / or masked by other traffic noises that it would be difficult to hear and locate it.

According to a news report from 2010
"Nine crossings in Tower Hamlets fail to meet minimum government guidelines – one of the highest numbers of any London borough.

The figures were revealed after London Assembly Liberal Democrat leader Caroline Pidgeon put Mayor Boris Johnson under the hammer last week, asking him how many pedestrian crossings failed to meet basic standards.

It was revealed 115 pedestrian crossings across London do not meet Department of Transport guidelines, failing to provide the minimum time for people to cross and sonic aids for the vision impaired."
However, there isn't a formal crossing at Globe Road so this cannot be included in that. It's a busy crossing and you can't get anywhere to the left of Stepney Green without passing across it so I think it should be friendlier to the many pedestrians who cross there.

Collisions I've spotted via Twitter and elsewhere
I realised that traffic reports are often filed on Twitter but might not be more widely publicised, so I thought I'd collect some here that I've become aware of.

26 December 1863
Original article: 

"on the evening of 26th December I was at Mr. John's, Mile-end-road, and saw the prisoner - he was racing; he was in a cart and horse - there was another cart alongside of him - this was in the Mile-end-road; Globe-road crosses the Mile-end-road - I saw an old gentleman knocked down in Globe-road by the horse the prisoner was driving - there is a crossing there across the road - there were not many persons about - the two horses and carts were racing together; one was trying to get before the other - it was pretty light; it was about 5 o'clock, between 5 and 6."

19 April 2011
Original tweet:

23 March 2012
Original tweet:

10 July 2012
Original tweet:

19 July 2013
Original tweet:

20 December 2013
Original tweet:

5 February 2014
Original tweet:

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Much missed - MOMI, London's Museum of the Moving Image

I loved the Museum of the Moving Image which opened in 1988 and closed down in 1999. The site has now become BFI Southbank (I recognise the door handles).  Here are some things I still remember about it and wanted to write down before I forget, in no particular order:

1. The old-style cinema that showed all sorts of films to which you were admitted by collecting a proper old-fashioned ticket made of card.

2. The big glass doors leading into the main auditorium (I don't mean the ones at the main entrance though). More stairs.

3. Pretty sure there were some Daleks near the entrance - one of the events I went to see was called "Behind the sofa" which celebrated Doctor Who and had an exhibit which let you press a button to listen to the programme's theme tunes from different years.

4. There was massive truck - I think it had the letters RKO on it but could be wrong.

5. The blue-screen thing where you could pretend to be Superman etc. Fairly certain it was blue and not green, though I understand it's mostly green-screen these days or rotoscoping.

6. The kiosk where you could record yourself being interviewed by film reviewer and interviewer Barry Norman and watch the playback later, in public on a big screen.

7. Happening across animation cels of An Vrombaut's "Little Wolf" which was a cartoon I'd watched late one night and had completely failed to find out what it was. It's on YouTube. Apparently An was taking part in some sort of 'meet the animator' event and the cels were on the wall to illustrate that.

8. The projector that projected an endless loop of film - the loop was stretched across several bits of an installation so you could see the frames whirring past. It was hypnotic.

9. The actor-y bit where members of the public could join in with a pretend Hollywood Movie and where people got to say 'Action' and play about with clapperboards, wear costumes, play with cameras etc.

10. Photographs everywhere of Hollywood icons.

11. The exhibition on magic lanterns.

12. Were there people dressed up as Eadward Muybridge talking about how they recorded the horse with all four feet off the ground or was that somewhere else? I'm remembering a mechanical toy thing (a bit like the horse race game) which you could activate to show the cameras going off. Possibly I'm mis-remembering.


Barry Norman at the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI) in London for Film 88 - filmed before it opened (4m 47s)

Museum of the Moving Images (MOMI) - filmed in 1993 (8m 31s)

Behind the Sofa exhibition at MOMI - filmed in 1991 (1m 41s)

Museum of the Moving Images.(MOMI) London - Recorded in 1993 (5m 40s)

See also - London cinema / film places
  • BFI - I still love them, even though I understand they pulled the plug on MOMI
  • The Cinema Museum, Elephant & Castle / Vauxhall
  • London Film Museum (formerly Movieum, which moved from County Hall to Covent Garden)

Further reading

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Charity concert listings that anyone can update - does this exist?

I've started noticing that there are quite a few musical events to benefit charities - I've always followed a lot of charities on Twitter but recently have started following a few musicians so am probably twice as aware as I was.

Here's an example of one I spotted a couple of days ago, from a charity:

Each charity will promote their event to their supporters (and not just via Twitter of course!) and musicians and special guests will do likewise to their fans etc.

It occurred to me that people who aren't connected with either the charity, or the people performing at it, might still like to know about these events - and if they would, where would they look?

Is there a charity concerts listing, that visitors can update themselves ("submit your event")* - and is there even much of a need for one? There might not be.

If I want to go to see a film I can check the local listings and see where it's on. But I can also look at the overarching listings and see that a much-loved film will be showing at some location I'd never heard of - the existence of the overarching listings means that I'll hear about other stuff. That's what I imagine the benefit of a charity concert listings might be, to augment the signal a bit.

I suppose I tend to see more than one example of 'something in a particular category' (in this case charity music events' as an indication that the category itself might be curated!

Here's one I've found: "Charity Concert" | Events | The List - it looks interesting but I don't think I can auto-submit an event.

*presumably the time cost of this is that for the website to work efficiently there'd have to be someone who'd receive a notification that a new event needs approving and then approve it. Without that it will end up being filled with spam.

Wasted money buying weight loss pills online? Try and get your money back and report to Action Fraud

This post is modified from one that appeared as part of an earlier post and is aimed at people in the UK.

Weight loss pills and supplements are advertised in newspapers (though I think some of them are cottoning on to the fact that they don't really work), magazines, television programmes and adverts, dedicated websites, pop-ups on other people's websites, sites like Instagram, Twitter and on YouTube. If you've bought some and wish you hadn't (check your credit card / debit card bill as there may be ongoing charges added) then here are some suggestions for what you might be able to do.

1. Try and get your money back
If you've bought pills (or anything online) with a debit or credit card then you may be able to get your money back. Have a look at the information on Section 75 and Chargeback at Martin Lewis' Money Saving Expert page on Visa, Mastercard & Amex Chargeback: protection for debit card purchases. I think it only works if the cost was over £100 though but worth checking.

2a. Report the website to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
How to complain about misleading marketing / advertising (as of 2011 websites are included) -

Have a look at what the Committee of Advertising Practice (they produce the guidelines that the ASA uses to determine if marketing material on websites or leaflets is OK) has to say about various types of weight loss advertising too.

See also UK Government information on the Advertising Standards Authority 

2b. Report to Trading Standards 
From Trading Standards' website - Trading Standards tips for successful New Year's resolutions
• The New Year may seem like a perfect time to get back into those skinny jeans. Trading Standards is warning consumers to be sceptical of fad diets, misleading statements and exaggerated promises made by companiespromising to have a “miracle cure”. Not only will they fail to lighten anything but your wallet, many products may be untested and could be extremely unsafe.
• Trading Standards warns consumers to be wary of internet sellers or small ads offering weight loss supplements such as herbal remedies which promise an easy route to weightloss.
•  Consumers have reported falling foul of internet sites where they thought they were subscribingto a free slimming pill trial only to discover they were tied into expensive contracts.
The first port of call was previously Consumer Direct however Citizen's Advice took over this role in April 2012, see their Advice Guide.

If you know the operating address of the company then contact the relevant local Trading Standards office, you can do this from the UK Government's Trading Standards web portal. Note that the UK office address may not be the company's actual address (might be outside of the UK).

There's some good background advice in this This is Money article (note that it's from 2009 so some of the links won't work and Consumer Direct aren't involved anymore) - "Help! I've been caught by diet pills scam".

See also "Warning issued over illegal 'fat burning' chemical" (September 2013) from the Trading Standards Institute.

2c. Report it to Action Fraud
If you have lost money in buying unevidenced weight loss pills you can report this to Action Fraud, who have this to say on Miracle Health Scams:

"Miracle health scams can include fake ‘miracle’ cures and weight loss products as well as bogus online pharmacies.

It is unlikely that such products have been properly tested or that there is any proof that they are medically effective. Some of these products may even be harmful.

Advertising for miracle health cures often include fake testimonials from apparently satisfied customers, have unproven claims about the product’s effectiveness, make false claims about clinical tests and have worthless ‘money back’ guarantees."

Tis the season of weight loss pills, and other online pills, for which there is generally not very good evidence. 

Most are probably fairly harmless and just ineffective (waste of money, and a hassle to get a refund), but some aren't harmless and the sorts of risks can include:

• the pills do contain the ingredients listed but the pills should really only be used under medical supervision
• the pills don't contain the ingredients listed but some other (possibly prescription-only) medicine, perhaps one that has been taken off the market

To be fair, very few are actually lethal. Do watch out for the fat burning one above though.

Fairly often the pills will contain a variety of herbal ingredients and minerals but no evidence is given that the pills have been tested as a combination of those ingredients. If evidence is offered only for the individual ingredients (often small studies in animals or humans) then be wary as things can behave quite differently in combination - and if the pills haven't been tested in the format that they're being sold in then the company cannot reasonably make any claims about them.

I've written previously about the tactics of review sites* and the concept of article spinning** and this means that I sometimes get blog comments from people who are annoyed at having paid money for online pills - hope this updated post helps.

*they're often not actually review sites but provide a link to a merchant site from which you can buy the product, while giving the review site a small percentage of the sale - this is perfectly legal by the way, and often used to really good effect by some charitable organisations (eg with selling books through Amazon) it's just helpful to be aware of it.

**taking a block of text, changing a few words, and publishing this in the hope of fooling Google that it's a fresh new website - this has let people 'flood' the internet with similar websites all promoting the same product, though Google has begun penalising some of the sites.