Stuff that occurs to me

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Possibly the best spam email I've ever received

As suggested I have immediately stopped communications with non-governmental prostates (!), finance companies and online lovers ;-)

There may be someone reading who's less familiar with types of email spam but I hope it's obvious that it's a bad idea to hand over your name, address, telephone, occupation and age to anyone that asks, without good reason.

I've made the email addresses non-functional.

== Spam 1 ==

From: Ban Ki Moon

Reply to:

28 July 2014

Subject: The Truth About your Fund.

Dear Victim,

This is to intimate you of a very important information which will be of a great help to redeem you from all the difficulties you have been experiencing in getting your long over due payment due to excessive demand for money from you by both corrupt Bank officials,Online Lovers and Courier Companies after which your fund remain unpaid to you.

Due to over rampant internet Banking corrupt activities, and also the High rate of scam on internet, compensation payment was stop. On our information we got about you, we found out that you are among those that have lost money to those internet scammers that claim to pay you back. The Board of Trustees decided to cancel the award payment with the bank, This meeting was held in London on 3rd of June, 2014.

I am Ban Ki Moon Director of international affairs in the United Nation (UN). It may interest you to know that reports have reached our office by so many correspondences on the uneasy way which people like you are treated by Various Banks, Online Lovers and Courier Companies Diplomat(s) across Europe to Africa and Asia London UK, and we have decided to put a STOP to that and that is why I was appointed to handle your transaction here in Malaysia.

After the meeting on 31st of June, 2014. an official agreement was reached on Tuesday 1st of July 2014, between the Board of Trustees and Security Company which took an immediate effects for the Security Company to issue all the victims a Certified International Master Card worth Ten Million Five Thousands United States Dollars (USD 10,500,000.00).

All Governmental and Non-Governmental prostates, NGO's, Finance Companies, Banks, Online Lovers, Security Companies and Diplomat(s) which have been in contact with you of late have been instructed to back off and you have been advised NOT to respond to them anymore since the United Nation is now directly in charge of your payment. Your fund will be release to you directly from our source with immediate effect and we shall give you further details on how your fund will be released.

You are hereby advice to provide your information as stated below:

Full Name: ...Address:. ...Telephone:....Occupation:.......Age :..........

Name: Ban Ki Moon


Note: You can also receive your Funds via Bank Draft Check or Bank Wire Transfer depends on your choice.I hope this is clear. STOP any further communication with ANYONE, any action contrary to this instruction is at your own risk.

== Spams 2 and 3 ==

Edit 15 September 2014 - further spam, perhaps not as good as the one above but still delightfully odd.

== Spam 2 ==

Guillermina Almengor
Policy violation #85982611109


We regret to inform you that your employment with John Liscombe Ltd is being terminated. Your termination is the result of the following violations of company policy:
- C2U 98 13.03.2013
- C2U 67 13.03.2013
- C2U 40 13.03.2013

You were issued written warnings on 10.08.2014. As stated in your final warning, you needed to take steps to correct your behavior by 15.09.2014. Your failure to do so has resulted in your termination. To appeal this termination, you must return written notification of your intention to appeal to Jesse Hagmaier in John Liscombe Ltd no later than 09:00PM on 18.09.2014.

Guillermina Almengor
+07765 857 717

Attachment - an .arj file

== Spam 3 ==

Leonardo Balmaceda

Termination #49646602412


We regret to inform you that your employment with TPA Trax Portable Access is being terminated. Your termination is the result of the following violations of company policy:
- MVC 72 13.09.2012
- MVC 62 13.09.2012
- MVC 66 13.09.2012

You were issued written warnings on 22.08.2014. As stated in your final warning, you needed to take steps to correct your behavior by 15.09.2014. Your failure to do so has resulted in your termination. To appeal this termination, you must return written notification of your intention to appeal to Genoveva Citroni in TPA Trax Portable Access no later than 05:00PM on 25.09.2014.

Leonardo Balmaceda

Attachment - an .arj file with a different name (didn't check file contents!)

== Spam 4 == 

Arrived 3 December 2014

This is the raw material from which spam is made... there are several comments here, typically one would be used. Within each there are curly {} brackets with four options to choose from, probably there'd be some automating software that would select one of the options (so each comment can become several slightly different comments) and one 'end product spam' would be posted. Looks like there was a glitch as this entire thing was left on my blog. 

{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
{It’s|It is} pretty worth enough for me. {In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web owners}
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{Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally well} written!|
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{article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} on building up
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Money and freedom {is the best|is the greatest} way to change, may you be rich and continue
to {help|guide} {other people|others}.|
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{Superb|Exceptional|Outstanding|Excellent} Blog!|
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{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves}
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{Terrific|Wonderful|Great|Fantastic|Outstanding|Exceptional|Superb|Excellent} blog and
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{This sort of|This type of|Such|This kind of} clever
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guys I’ve {incorporated|added|included} you guys
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{tough|difficult|hard} time {making a decision|selecting|choosing|deciding} between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
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{completely unique|unique}. P.S {My apologies|Apologies|Sorry} for {getting|being} off-topic
but I had to ask!|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hey there|Hello|Hey} would
you mind letting me know which {webhost|hosting
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I’ve loaded your blog in 3 {completely different|different} {internet
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Can you {suggest|recommend} a good {internet hosting|web hosting|hosting} provider at a {honest|reasonable|fair}
price? {Thanks a lot|Kudos|Cheers|Thank
you|Many thanks|Thanks}, I appreciate it!|
{I love|I really like|I like|Everyone loves} it {when people|when individuals|when folks|whenever people} {come together|get together} and share {opinions|thoughts|views|ideas}.
Great {blog|website|site}, {keep it up|continue the good work|stick with it}!|
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account it. Look advanced to {far|more} added agreeable from
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{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hello|Hey} just wanted to give you a
quick heads up. The {text|words} in your {content|post|article} seem to
be running off the screen in {Ie|Internet explorer|Chrome|Firefox|Safari|Opera}.
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with {web browser|internet browser|browser} compatibility but I
{thought|figured} I’d post to let you know. The {style and design|design and style|layout|design} look great though!
Hope you get the {problem|issue} {solved|resolved|fixed} soon. {Kudos|Cheers|Many thanks|Thanks}|
This is a topic {that is|that’s|which is} {close to|near to} my
heart… {Cheers|Many thanks|Best wishes|Take care|Thank
you}! {Where|Exactly where} are your contact details though?|
It’s very {easy|simple|trouble-free|straightforward|effortless} to find out any {topic|matter} on {net|web} as
compared to {books|textbooks}, as I found this {article|post|piece of
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I’ve got some {creative ideas|recommendations|suggestions|ideas} for your blog you
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{Hola|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Greetings}! I’ve been {following|reading} your {site|web site|website|weblog|blog} for {a
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{Tx|Texas}! Just wanted to {tell you|mention|say} keep up
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{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hello}, i read your blog {occasionally|from time to time} and i own a similar one
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If so how do you {prevent|reduce|stop|protect against} it,
any plugin or anything you can {advise|suggest|recommend}? I get so much lately it’s
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{Thanks a lot|Thanks|Many thanks} for sharing!|
{I really|I truly|I seriously|I absolutely} love {your
blog|your site|your website}.. {Very nice|Excellent|Pleasant|Great} colors & theme.
Did you {create|develop|make|build} {this website|this site|this
web site|this amazing site} yourself? Please reply
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{Thanks|Many thanks|Thank you|Cheers|Appreciate it|Kudos}!|
{Hi there|Hello there|Howdy}! This {post|article|blog
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{Reading through|Looking at|Going through|Looking
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{I will|I’ll|I am going to|I most certainly will} {forward|send} {this article|this information|this post} to him.
{Pretty sure|Fairly certain} {he will|he’ll|he’s going to} {have a good|have a very good|have a great} read.
{Thank you for|Thanks for|Many thanks for|I appreciate you
for} sharing!|
{Wow|Whoa|Incredible|Amazing}! This blog looks
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website|this site|this web site}.|
{Hi|Hello|Hi there|What’s up}, I {log on to|check|read} your {new stuff|blogs|blog} {regularly|like every week|daily|on a regular basis}.
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{I wanted|I needed|I want to|I need to} to thank you for this
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Keep on posting!|
{Hi there|Hello}, I enjoy reading {all of|through} your {article|post|article post}.
I {like|wanted} to write a little comment to support you.|
I {always|constantly|every time} spent my half an hour to
read this {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site}’s {articles|posts|articles or reviews|content} {everyday|daily|every
day|all the time} along with a {cup|mug} of coffee.|
I {always|for all time|all the time|constantly|every
time} emailed this {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site} post
page to all my {friends|associates|contacts}, {because|since|as|for the reason that} if like to read it {then|after that|next|afterward} my {friends|links|contacts} will too.|
My {coder|programmer|developer} is trying to {persuade|convince} me to move to .net from PHP.
I have always disliked the idea because of the {expenses|costs}.
But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using {Movable-type|WordPress} on {a number of|a variety of|numerous|several|various} websites for about a year and am {nervous|anxious|worried|concerned}
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{Any kind of|Any} help would be {really|greatly} appreciated!|
{Hello|Hi|Hello there|Hi there|Howdy|Good day}! I could have sworn I’ve {been to|visited} {this blog|this web site|this website|this site|your blog} before but after {browsing through|going
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{Terrific|Great|Wonderful} {article|work}! {This is|That
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are meant to|that are supposed to|that should} be shared {around the|across the} {web|internet|net}.
{Disgrace|Shame} on {the {seek|search} engines|Google} for
{now not|not|no longer} positioning this {post|submit|publish|put up} {upper|higher}!
Come on over and {talk over with|discuss with|seek advice from|visit|consult with} my {site|web site|website} .
{Thank you|Thanks} =)|
Heya {i’m|i am} for the first time here. I {came across|found} this board and I find It
{truly|really} useful & it helped me out {a lot|much}. I hope to give something back and
{help|aid} others like you {helped|aided} me.|
{Hi|Hello|Hi there|Hello there|Howdy|Greetings}, {I think|I believe|I do believe|I do think|There’s no doubt that} {your site|your website|your web site|your blog}
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{I just|I simply|I merely} wanted to {give you a|provide
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{A person|Someone|Somebody} {necessarily|essentially} {lend a hand|help|assist} to make {seriously|critically|significantly|severely} {articles|posts} {I
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{research|analysis} you made to {create|make} {this
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{Great|Wonderful|Fantastic|Magnificent|Excellent} {task|process|activity|job}!|
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{Hello|Hi|Hello there|Hi there|Howdy|Good day|Hey there}!
{I just|I simply} {would like to|want to|wish to} {give you a|offer you a}
{huge|big} thumbs up {for the|for your} {great|excellent} {info|information} {you have|you’ve
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I {always|all the time|every time} used to {read|study} {article|post|piece
of writing|paragraph} in news papers but now as
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Sunday, 27 July 2014

I've no idea which Raspberry Ketones weight loss products can legally be sold in the UK

Short version: (1) Bottles of pills containing raspberry ketones may be being sold illegally in the UK because they are an unauthorised novel food whose safety hasn't been assessed properly. (2) Raspberry ketones are a waste of money as a weight loss supplement (no good evidence they work, any weight lost is solely due to changes in diet / exercise.

Full post: A couple of weeks ago I learned from BBC1's Watchdog that it might actually be illegal for companies to sell Raspberry Ketone products in the UK (if you've bought some online with a credit or debit card you may be able to get your money back - there's no evidence they help with weight loss), and tweeted the following:

Were I sending that tweet now I'd probably add a couple of caveats: (1) I don't know what sort of crime it is (unfair trading? mislabelling?) or what the punishment would be (fine more likely than jail I'd think) and (2) it seems to depend on the type of product on sale.

In October last year the Food Standards Agency (FSA) opened up a consultation with people who sell raspberry ketone products and asked for information about the products. One thing the FSA were keen to find was evidence that these products had been widely consumed in the UK since before 1997.
Under Regulation (EC) 258/97, novel foods and food ingredients may only be marketed if they have been evaluated and authorised under the procedures defined in the regulation. A novel food or ingredient is defined as one that was not consumed to a significant degree in the European Community before 15 May 1997. Raspberry ketones have not been authorised under this regulation.

The Agency is not aware of any evidence for a history of consumption of raspberry ketones anywhere in the EU before May 1997 and we are therefore minded to view it to be a novel food, which cannot be sold legally until it has been formally authorised. As such, any companies who wish to market foods containing raspberry ketones in the EU will need to apply for an authorisation under Regulation (EC) 258/97. Such an authorisation would require the submission of a dossier to one of the 28 EU Member States, demonstrating that the ingredient (a) does not present a risk to the consumer; (b) does not mislead the consumer; and (c) is not nutritionally disadvantageous compared with other foods that it might replace in the diet.
Source: Request for information from businesses: Raspberry ketones FSA 24 October 2013 [emphasis added by me]

In March they published their findings and I have to say I'm still a bit confused. Very reasonably the FSA makes a distinction between different types of raspberry ketone products noting that some can be sold without problem, but that some need to have some sort of authorisation.

Some raspberry ketones are fine...

"We received and reviewed information from a small number of interested parties. We have confirmed that some raspberry fruit extracts, which may or not be marketed as “raspberry ketones”, are outside the definition of a novel food, based on conclusions reached in other EU Member States. This is limited to extracts prepared using water or 20% ethanol (1:4 ethanol:water). These extracts therefore do not require authorisation as novel foods."
Source: Raspberry ketones (letter to interested parties) FSA 12 March 2014 [emphasis added by me]

but some are not...

"We have not received any other information that provides evidence of a history of significant consumption of raspberry ketones prior to 15 May 1997. We therefore remain of the view that raspberry ketones, other than the extracts mentioned above, are novel and fall within the scope of the EU legislation on novel foods
Under Regulation (EC) 258/97, novel foods and food ingredients may only be legally marketed in the EU if they have been evaluated and authorised under the procedures defined in the regulation, raspberry ketones have not undergone this process. Any companies who wish to market a novel food in the EU will need to gain an EU authorisation under Regulation (EC) 258/97. Such an authorisation would require the submission of a dossier to one of the 28 EU member states, demonstrating that the product a) does not present a risk to the consumer; b) does not mislead the consumer; and c) is not nutritionally disadvantageous compared with other foods that it might replace in the diet." Source: as above, 12 March 2014 [emphasis added by me]

But wait...

"This advice does not apply to the use of the chemical substance “Raspberry ketone” (4-(p-hydroxyphenyl)butan-2-one) as a flavouring. This compound is a permitted flavouring substance in the EU and small amounts of raspberry ketone can be used as a flavouring, in compliance with the EU Flavourings Regulation (1334/2008/EC). If used for any other purpose it would have to comply with the novel foods regulation." Source: as above, 12 March 2014 [emphasis added by me]

There seem to be three different classes of raspberry ketones
(1) Those that are a particular kind of water / ethanol extract
(2) Naughty raspberry ketones that can't be sold without authorisation
(3) The butan-2-one chemical compound

If you're buying raspberry ketones online or from Holland & Barrett (really, really don't bother, try and get your money back, there's no evidence that they can do anything for weight loss) then how do consumers know whether the product is being sold legally (though uselessly), or illegally as a novel food of unknown safety (also uselessly).

I had a look at the online Holland and Barrett shop page for Raspberry Ketones and didn't find any information about EU authorisation.

Similarly I've no idea if the raspberry ketones on offer from Groupon are being marketed legally or not. I've asked them to clarify.

Personally I don't think anyone should be wasting money on these products at all but if you do want to, how do you know which ones are "OK" to buy? There seems to be insufficient information for consumers.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Blogger users: if you don't hyperlink an URL it isn't linked on web browsers but *is* on mobile version

by @JoBrodie,

Occasionally I refer to a web address without linking it in the (now mistaken) belief that this doesn't give it any 'Google juice'. This is because by not hyperlinking (making it clickable) visitors can't click on it to go to that site, so there's no trail of clicks from my site to the site I'm mentioning and nothing for Google to index.

I do this for iffy websites that I don't want to link to but where I want to provide the information for people to be able to visit the site if they wish (they can copy and paste the address into a new browser tab).

However it doesn't work. When you're viewing this site on a mobile phone any unlinked address automatically appears as a clickable thing.

On a browser this looks like plain text - I have not hyperlinked this one, but I have hyperlinked all other links in this post.

but on a mobile version it would like

(if you're viewing this post on a mobile you'll see both hyperlinked, check on a desktop browser to see what I mean).

1. Mangle the URL in an obvious way so that the reader can see what to do to in order to visit the page, eg - click all you like, you'll go to the wrong place until you delete the word DELETE from the URL.
2. Use Do Not Link* to create a referring address which acts as a sort of protective wrapper so that Google, in indexing links on your site, indexes the referring link and not the real one.

*"Who uses donotlink?
Skeptics, bloggers, journalists and friends on social media use donotlink to link to scams, pseudoscience, misinformation, alternative medicine, conspiracy theories, racist / sexist blog posts, etc. without improving the search engine position of the site they are discussing."

I should add that using Do Not Link doesn't actively harm the search engine position of the site, which is something that has been mis-claimed by Lynne McTaggart (editor of What Doctors Don't Tell You) in wondering if skeptics are trying to damage the magazine's Google reputation by using this style of linking. This is not what's actually happening, by linking in this way we're not benefitting the site, but it's not otherwise harmful.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Tweaking the calendar months for alphabetic optimisation :)

Not long after posting this tweet (on 20 Dapril 2013) I adopted this strategy in earnest, for ordering some (not all) of my files - this lets me simultaneously order by name ( alphabetically) while ordering them by date, which makes me pretty happy. Though I do always giggle when I get to Haugust.

Visit the tweet on its page to see the replies that people sent me (the original problem I was having was within an Excel spreadsheet file, there's a fix for that but I also wanted something for Windows 'file manager' listings).

I can't believe it took me that long but here's how it's working for some ad hoc meetings notes for the Teaching London Computing project:

I've got the real date in there (which also opens the filename up to searching across folders) but the addition of the modified calendar month-name means they're in correct order. Pro-tip: use 01 etc for single digits otherwise I think 25 would come before 3 (depending on how your system's set up), but it's worth adopting this as much as possible as it seems to solve so many problems.

I wondered who else had come up with this idea and I can see that several fellow geniuses have also landed on this elegant and smug solution :)

A discussion on xkcd's 1179the comic "ISO 8601" (2 May 2013)
The cartoon itself is at

The tweets below are from 26 March 2009.

Not sure Ed has quite grasped the alphabetic feature being suggested but I like his idea ;)

International Date Format (30 June 2008)
Why do we have to suffer American dates (12 August 2007)

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Fun with promoted tweets - remember you can comment on them

by @JoBrodie, 

Edit 2 August 2014: when I first published this post I was unaware that (a) it costs the advertiser each time you interact with a promoted tweet (ha!) and that (b) quite separately, people might deliberately respond to advertisers to let them know of their anger about Twitter's poor response re bullying / harrassment etc for example).

The short version
The way Twitter handles threaded conversations means that any reply you post to a promoted tweet can be seen by anyone else, if you want to have a little bit of fun with particularly irritating and poorly targeted (and persistent) ones. Each time you click, RT, reply to or favourite a promoted tweet the advertiser is apparently charged for this 'engagement', though presumably they set a cap for the amount they will pay to Twitter.

The post
I have used Twitter for six years and benefited hugely from it yet I've never paid them a bean. It would be churlish to begrudge them revenue and I wish them well in collecting it.

One of the ways I think they're doing this is to charge people to promote tweets - they've been doing it since at least July 2011. Note that I said people and not advertisers or companies. Anyone can pay to promote their tweet to a bunch of people. And they do, and some of them are ... well, a bit pointless.

Initially it was mostly companies promoting a product or service through Twitter but now it seems that anyone with less sense than money can join in.

Here are some that I've had promoted into my timeline.

New addition (31 July 2014)
"Eh?" was my reaction to this promoted tweet.

None of them appear to be advertising anything (the last one has a link but it's just to a picture of a bit of plastic-coated wire). I suppose this is a modern-day calling card of sorts. 

Genuine company-promoted tweets are a bit different. Some are useful, interesting and relevant others are poorly targeted and there seems to be no way of avoiding them. Blocking the sender makes no difference as far as I can see, and replying to them rarely makes much of a difference (though any interaction with their tweet costs them money), but doing so did give me an idea for some mild sneakery.

You can comment on promoted tweets
Thanks to the way Twitter threads conversations a tweet becomes part of a conversation once anyone replies to it. When you click on the tweet you can see most(1) of the other tweets that people have sent in reply. This means that, merely by replying, you can 'graffiti' a promoted tweet. Unless Twitter makes it so that promoted tweets can't have replies there's not much the company can do to stop this commentary - unless they delete that tweet.

To be honest I think this sort of thing should probably be reserved for only the really irritating tweets that are irrelevant and persistent - let's not all be mean to people who mis-send a tweet every now and again.
Do promoters understand this?
Having clicked on a few promoted tweets now (both from companies and people who seem to have promoted a tweet by accident), and seen the replies, it seems that sending out a promoted tweet can really open you up to some unpleasant responses. I don't know if Twitter is warning advertisers - I assume they're being told that their tweets are being targeted to relevant people but having received so many that are so off-target this system might need to iron out a few glitches. Mis-targeted tweets probably increases the unpleasantness of responses as people find these promoted tweets pretty irritating. The problem, for advertisers, is not just the unpleasant replies ('snark yes, unpleasantness no' would be my motto) but the fact that others can see the unpleasant replies thanks to threading, and also that each response or interaction is costing them money.

Skeptical activism - an opportunity
This could backfire horribly. I got the idea from a disgruntled air passenger who paid for a tweet to be promoted to people telling them that the airline he travelled on had terrible customer service. About a year ago the Advertising Standards Authority adjudicated against an advert for a company that makes a tape that you stick to your skin to prevent muscular problems and injury. It's utter nonsense (aka kinesio tape) but the products sell well despite this. I jokingly suggested that a bunch of people crowdsource funds to pay for a promoted tweet that sends the link of the ASA's adjudication on kinesio tape nonsense to people on Twitter who mention the tape. Though I'd certainly not want the tweet to come from my account ;-)

Edit 2 August - I'm not sure if this works, if payment isn't given in advance but only for each 'impression'. Could go terribly wrong ;)

(1) Twitter no longer shows the entirety of a conversation, you have to go on a bit of a hunt if you want to see branched conversations.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What I'm listening to today, the #Harkive project

The first tweet I saw today was this from Pete Paphides, followed by the second one.

I'm going to take part and will update this blog post today with the music and sounds I chose to listen to today, how I listened to it and why.

7.30am - first three minutes (instrumental) of 'Matthew the Man' by Iona, on YouTube viewed on iPhone. Link copied from desktop to Pocket, picked up on phone app - YouTube plays in-app it seems.

This is a song I discovered in a shop that had some awful muzak, but occasionally brightened listeners' ears with this track that reminded me a bit of Porcupine Tree. It was noticeably different from the other musical fare on offer so tended to stick out. Not that long ago I discovered that the only reason I ever heard it in the first place was because the shop was trying to stream music but the stream had failed and the device was playing this, its default track - so I learned a little bit about muzak infrastructure too. More about the Imagesound AHD1 here: If you've ever heard this piece of music in a chainstore this is probably why. - with some very nerdy comments.

8am - 9.30am - no music, having my gas meter changed and had Radio 4 (on a DAB radio* that I'm not that fond of) on in the kitchen. Off the top of my head I can't think of any songs about, or featuring, gas that I particularly like so nothing to report.

9.30 - well now I'm listening to Tracking the Lincolnshire poacher (see appendix below) cos I started playing it on YouTube. It is a bit spooky.

10.00 - and of course that reminded me of the spooky going on from the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, 'Alchemists of Sound'. It used to be on YouTube but isn't anymore, which is a shame as they've no plans to release it as a DVD (I asked 2 Entertain who deal with that sort of thing for the BBC and they said no).

11am-12.43pm - no music played, made the foolish mistake to try and tackle my work inbox but in the process I seem to have deleted almost all of my emails (all the ones that I'd carefully put into folders). Most irritating.

12.44pm - listening to Clannad's 'Robin the Hooded Man' theme tune for the ITV series about Robin Hood that was on in the mid 1980s. This was played in a background window on YouTube, next up is the theme tune for ITV's Sherlock Holmes series (example from The Musgrave Ritual). Last week I went to a rather good concert where they played some of the music for the current BBC Sherlock series, here's 'Redbeard' from Series 3.

2pm - trying to recover some lost emails so not listening to much music in a carefree fashion, but generally peeved ;) Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably Numb' was something a friend introduced me to when I was 12 at school. I spent ages listening to it on a cassette tape recorder device under my pillow (boarding school) and saving battery by rewinding the tape with a biro. My mum always told me I'd grow out of the music I liked as a child (this also includes Jean-Michel Jarre) but so far, no.

Didn't listen to anything until a bit of music was played at a meeting at 5.30pm, don't know what it was but can probably find out.

Heard a bit of piped music in Royal Festival Hall when I popped in there on my way home, then on way to ferry heard some live music (a singer and a guitarist, separately).

Back home, watching the film Made in Dagenham on BBC Four - enjoying the music for that. The last time I watched it I couldn't hear it cos it was so cold I had my small fan heater on :)

*other than televisions I have a constitutional dislike of presets and prefer to be able to take in the entire radio spectrum. I quite like finding oddities down the back of the broadcast spectrum though I've never actually heard one of the numbers stations (hear 'Tracking the Lincolnshire Poacher' below for more about these and their assumed use in cryptography / covert communications).

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Dr Nancy Malik's homeopathy-supporting website mistakenly implies that it is HON accredited

Health on the Net (HON) accredit websites that offer health information if the website's content passes eight criteria (the 'HON Code'). Once this has been demonstrated the owner is given a bit of code (a 'widget') to add to their site which confirms that their site has been certified as giving good-quality information. This shows on the certified website as a side-panel badge which, if clicked, takes you to a page on HON's website that confirms the validated certificate.

There is another way of checking if a site is accredited. HON have created toolbar widgets for browsers that light up when the browser is visiting a HON-accredited site.

Here's what it looks like when visiting

and here's what it looks like when visiting Dr Nancy Malik's Science-based Homeopathy site

If you look for the blue and red icon on the right the difference is clear.

The website, Science-based Homeopathy, is not accredited by Health on the Net - though it was previously.

Health on the Net's certificate for Dr Malik's website currently says 'invalid' in bright red letters:

Interestingly Dr Malik (or her webmaster) has removed the badge from her website and replaced it with the picture below. The text of the link on her site is 'verify here' which implies that visitors clicking that link will be able to check the validity of the certificate.

In fact visitors are now taken to a screenshot of the earlier certificate (when the site was still validated). The screenshot is hosted on Google, not Health on the Net and so is not 'live' as a valid certificate.

The person running this website (it may not be Dr Malik) appears to have removed a now-invalid certificate in order to replace it with an older once-valid copy to give the impression that the site is still certificated. Perhaps this is an honest mistake and not done deliberately but now that so many have pointed this out it seems strange for the error not to have been fixed.

In short, Dr Nancy Malik's website 'Science-based Homeopathy' has lost its HONCode certification.

Strangely, the site also hosts a blog and one of the posts* attempts to explain this away. The old certificate is shown on the post and the text around it implies that re-certification is imminent after a short audit period. This seems to be quite unlikely.

During the audit period HON did not rescind the certificate but instead stated that it was under review ('re-exam'). The fact that it has now been changed to 'invalid' strongly suggests that the audit period has finished and that there will be no re-certification unless significant changes are made on the website to bring it in line with the HON Code. However, the strange behaviour regarding the way the real (invalid) certificate has been obscured on the site doesn't really suggest that this site would be trusted again in future.


Friday, 11 July 2014

Once embedded in a blog post a tweet will stay there even if deleted from Twitter (in theory)

This is another one of those posts that's really just for me ;)

On 1 May 2011 I sent a tweet and then, a day later I deleted it. It's still there though because before deleting it I added it to Storify, and now it's trapped there forever. The take-home lesson from this is that even if a tweet's later deleted, once it's been saved in Storify it's permanently saved (you can also take screenshots etc).

I've never tried it in a blog post but am expecting it to work because Twitter's help files indicate that it should*. An embedded tweet inherits all the information that lets someone who's reading it on a blog post (instead of on Twitter) interact with it - they can favourite or RT it. If the tweet is deleted from Twitter this is no longer possible but the text of the tweet (and who sent it and when) remains.

Let's see... I just sent this and will soon delete it.

URL of tweet:

Embedded version:

Now to delete it and see what happens. (According to the info below if I made my account private that would have the same effect).

Now that the tweet is deleted you can see what it looks like above, and this is how it had appeared on this post before I deleted it from Twitter.


*"What if a user deletes a Tweet after it has been embedded on another website? Similarly, what happens to Tweets from users that change their Tweets from public to protected (or become suspended)?

In all of these cases, Twitter branding and Tweet actions will be removed from the embedded Tweet, but the content of the Tweet will still be visible."

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

How does Google's 'right to be forgotten' work? Actual question, not rhetorical trope :) #R2BF

Possibly this will be solved by 'reading more around the topic' but I've not spotted the answer yet and someone must know.

How does Google's "right to be forgotten" info removal service actually work?

If there is a web page that says stuff you don't like do you ask Google to
(a) stop indexing that page / those pages in the searches (ie provide Google with a list of pages for it to hide)
(b) not show in its search results any pages that mention specific keywords
(c) some other method

If (a) then presumably this can easily be thwarted by reposting the content onto a new page with a new address.

Also Google indexes most things on Twitter (admittedly transiently) so if someone was determined they could keep posting stuff there and it would show up in Google (as well as, obviously, on Twitter).

I can see (b) being mildly more successful but Google would have to throttle at the level of search, to prevent each new page with those words showing up. This seems like a lot of hard work.

Also, aren't there sites that monitor the requests made (similar to the site that monitors requests for material under copyright to be removed). They've written on the right to be forgotten but I've not spotted the method Google's using.

If there are, don't bother looking in Google, just go to the relevant site and search there. Eg a Telegraph article I read this morning on R2BF suggests that Google has removed some of the Telegraph's links (suggesting method [a]...) on its search results about someone after they requested it, but searching on the Telegraph's site for the person mentioned in the article brings up other information, whether or not it's indexed on Google.

I'm sure the ethics, privacy, free speech aspects of this are all very interesting but what I'm actually intrigued by is just the practicalities.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Video purportedly showing a cure of motor neurone disease, with #homeopathy - nope

A couple of weeks ago I rather lost my temper with the discussions on the #homeopathy hashtag when someone implied that homeopathy could cure Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and that there was video evidence for this. This is flat out untrue. Homeopathy pills are made in such a way (diluting, then a special kind of shaking called 'succussion', the more more diluting and so on) to the point that there's no, or negligible levels of, active ingredient in the end product. People might certainly feel better and reassured after talking to a friendly homeopath, or taking their pills - but they cannot cure any diseases.

"Case of MND Restored to Healthy State with Homeopathy By Prof Dr A K Gupta" - below I go through each of the segments, struggling to make much sense of it.

It's difficult to follow what's being said. Someone is definitely speaking some English words but the rest is spoken in an Indian language and I think there is also a translator, and the sound is not good.

At no point is any evidence offered that the patient has or ever had a correct diagnosis of motor neurone disease. We are presented with a man who is unwell (coughing, difficulty speaking) and we all seem to be accepting that he has MND. Perhaps he does but this video doesn't bother to offer any robust confirmation.

We first see the patient on 10 July 2010 and the screen titles notes that he is experiencing "Coughing with difficulty in speaking, falls back when sitting". I cannot understand what is being said but the doctor (presumably) is asking a series of questions and the patient answers them through coughing.

We next see the patient on 11 August 2010 where his "Coughing, Fasciculations* (and) Muscle Pain (are apparently) Reduced", though he seems to me to be in more discomfort. *involuntary muscle twitching which can be of the harmless eye-twitch variety if you're a bit tired to twitching that's associated with a variety of more serious conditions.

Then on 15 December 2010 his "Speech (is) slightly better, Fasciculations much better" - the clip is too short to see how he's really changed but he seems fairly similar to the video from his first clip. Of course it's impossible for me (who doesn't speak the language) to know what's going on but it looks very much like the poor man is anxious and appears to be looking at someone else for support - if that was what he was after I hope he was getting it.

11 March 2011 "Speech nasal but much better, Choking Better, No More Falling Back" - the man's speech seems worse if anything but he looks happier at least.

We're now 2m 35s into an 8 minute video and there's been NO CONFIRMATION about what condition he may have or have had.

10 September 2011 "Swallowing improved, overall symptoms are better, patient feels stable" - I keep hearing the word 'fasciculation' and wonder if the doctor is just asking him if his fasciculations are better. While I agree that patients should be asked about their symptoms it would seem that fasciculations produce signs that are fairly obvious.

There's a risk, with self-reported improvements, that the doctor hears what they want to hear... the coughing seems better but the speech doesn't.

31st October 2011 "Better in general, speech affected due to Pollution of crackers during Diwali" - er, what? The crackers were polluted, or eating crackers polluted treatment? No indication given. I'm none the wiser.

7.1.12 "Choking & Suffociation completely cured" - I'm glad to hear it but at no point in this video (we're 5m 21s in) has there been any evidence offered that the man has ever been correctly diagnosed with any particular health condition, let alone MND.

No information is given about his other treatment (is he under the care of a neurologist?), none about the natural course of whatever condition he might have (does it progress relentlessly or are there periods of remission). Is it possible that he has been misdiagnosed and has another condition that is resolving by itself (so far I've not seen much evidence of dramatic improvement overall, and of course I am probably being led to look for things by the intertitles telling me how he's improving in certain aspects).

With the benefit of the doubt I'm going to assume that it's not fake (ie not an actor portraying symptoms) but of course that can't be ruled out as literally no evidence is offered for what's going on in the video. It's just a man talking to another man in an office in a language I don't understand. This is emphatically NOT evidence for homeopathy. If you're using this as evidence for homeopathy I recommend not doing that as it doesn't prove anything and the video is incomprehensible enough to be working against you.

At this point in the video I'm struggling to see much improvement in his speech, though it is slightly better - to be honest I didn't know what his speech was like previously.

At 6m 33s the intertitles state "Wife thanks homeopathy and Dr A K Gupta in restoring her husband's almost bed ridden condition & inability to eat / drink", then "Lost voice, choking, fasciculations back to near NORMAL HEALTHY STATE. Now he does not has (sic) to write to communicate."

We then see the man's wife (presumed) sitting in front of a calendar from Dr Reckeweg (seller of homeopathic tissue salts, though possibly not in the UK) who then (apparently) reads something from a cue card (she's looking away from the camera unless a question is asked, though perhaps she's just sitting opposite her husband and is looking at him). As I don't understand the language I don't know what she's saying.

Having now watched the full video at the request of a homeopathy supporter I have to assume I'm being expertly trolled and have been bested by their quick-thinking mockery. Well done homeopathy supporters and I think we can all agree that this video offers zero evidence in favour of (or against, it literally offers no evidence of any kind) homeopathy.

The Motor Neurone Disease Association were also tagged in the tweet sent to me with the video link so I had a look at their pages to see what they say about homeopathy. Sadly they don't say "it's a load of nonsense" but they do at least make it clear that you need to be talking to your doctor:
The objective of homeopathy is to alleviate illness or conditions by stimulating the body’s own natural healing processes. Homeopathy can be applied to the symptoms of many illnesses, as well as causes. As people can present varying symptoms, separate remedies may used for the same condition or illness for different individuals.

It is essential that a qualified homeopath be consulted, as their first task is to identify which remedies may work for the individual involved.

Note: it is important that you consult your doctor before taking any homeopathic remedy to ensure there is no conflict with any other medication you may be taking."

See also
Motor Neurone Disease Association website
The Homeopathy Awareness Week website on why people should be very, very aware of homeopathy.

Comments on this post
I am no longer adding further examples of these almost-identical generic comments despite receiving between three and five a day of them as I think their purpose (which is to help people be aware that they're spam comments in case they come across them elsewhere) is served already. Anyone trying to leave a comment of that nature here, with promises of miracle cures and whatnot, has been pre-cursed by me and will experience dreadful pains before a lingering death. It's only what you deserve ;) Mwahahaha.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

It seems the magazine 'What Doctors Don't Tell You' doesn't like me

I was surprised to discover this afternoon that I've now made it into yet another* Facebook rant from the people behind What Doctors Don't Tell You (there have been many rants though this is my first inclusion). They've been escalating their rants about skeptic activists (while unironically noting how few of us there are) ever since Tesco decided to stop stocking their magazine. The reason Tesco gave was that the magazine wasn't selling^ - I've no idea if this is true or if Tesco really did listen to the complaints against the magazine's content (or possibly they just read it and drew the relevant conclusions themselves).

^ - this link might take you to a picture shared on WDDTY's public page, it's a screenshot of an email from Tesco saying that they'd removed it in response to feedback.

Anyway, What Doctors Don't Tell You is now blaming skeptics for the withdrawal of the magazine and is now reduced to publicising personal and work information about us. To me this is very telling. Each of us has blogs where we've criticised the magazine's content or the framing of its content. If they think we're wrong it would be better to point out where we've missed something. The fact that the chosen tactic relies on personal attacks speaks volumes.

Remember that a number of the advertisers in the magazine have been found to be in breach of the advertising standards guidelines and in one particularly amusing case, someone whose research was written about in the magazine pointed out that the author had got it wrong.

Here's what WDDTY would like you to know about me... or at least someone whose name rhymes with mine (I have spelled it as Jo Brodie for... ooh, forever).

The bits that are accurate are fine. The bits that are inaccurate are quite wrong (surprise!) and it ropes in another Jo Brodie who might be a bit miffed to find herself (himself? Jo can be a man's name too) connected with this, so my post here is published to clarify my own 'involvement' in the list of skeptical activists. At the end of this post I'm including links to any other relevant blog posts that clarify the misinformation in the WDDTY Facebook post.

My work / volunteering
I do indeed work two days a week (2.5) for the CHI+MED project, yes. It's funded by the EPSRC (one of seven research councils) which are funded by the taxpayer. We are not paid by the pharmaceutical industry or, for that matter, the medical devices industry. We do work with medical device companies - we're trying to reduce the harm that can happen when complicated devices are used under stressful conditions.

My job is partly to update the website and expand the project's online presence - fair enough. I also give talks about our research, in particular the work we've done on public (& stakeholder) engagement and science communication.

For the rest of the week I do not work at Diabetes UK and haven't done since June 2012. Diabetes UK made the entire Science Information Team redundant then (5 people affected) but I'm on friendly terms with them, they do good stuff and I learned a lot while there.

I have never worked for Prof Wharton and until today had never heard of him. If you google his name and add mine you'll find that he does have a secretary with my name (spelled -ie not -y) but it isn't me. There are a surprising number of people called Jo Brodie who aren't me in fact. Prof Wharton's based in Sheffield, I'm in London. I'm sure I'd do quite a good job if I did work for him though as I have a Masters degree in Neuroscience and he seems to work in that sort of area.

For the rest of the week I actually work (1.5 days) on the Teaching London Computing project - supporting computing teachers who'll be delivering the new subject / curriculum. I also volunteer one day a week (1d) at JDRF (the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) so that I can put my diabetes statistics knowledge to good use.

"I'm not medically trained"
The reason I freely admit that I'm not medically trained is because it's true and some of the things I post here touch on health and medical topics. I think it's important to state this so that people aren't misled - I am not qualified to give advice, in much the same way that this magazine isn't qualified to give medical advice. To be honest even if I was medically qualified I'd still not be acting appropriately in giving advice because I don't have access to your medical records and might give advice that isn't relevant to you.

This concept was made very clear to me while working at Diabetes UK. We took calls from the public, explained that we were science information officers and then hopefully did a competent job of explaining complex topics simply. Quite a few people referred to us as 'doctor' (of course we corrected them) and many callers maintained the belief that we were medically trained, some were surprisingly quite deferential. That bothered me because we were trying to signpost them to information, not give them medical advice, and we certainly didn't want to misrepresent ourselves. I hope to make it clear from the outset (in the blog bio bit at the top) that I'm not medically qualified and I also re-mention it in relevant posts too.

Qualifications and competence
The post mentions several other people, largely to try and imply that we're a bunch of un-medically-qualified folk who are not fit to assess the content in the magazine. By contrast, their own advisors include:
"seven medical doctors on its editorial panel, plus several PhDs and highly qualified practitioners of a number of alternative disciplines. Thousands of doctors and health practitioners of every persuasion regularly read WDDTY and comment enthusiastically. The two editors of our magazine have been medical science writers for 25 years, and every word in our pages is checked by a science editor with a an extensive history of writing and editing medical studies for the pharmaceutical industry."
You might be interested in the background of these doctors...

I'm amused by the bit pointing out that a fact checker worked for the pharmaceutical industry - the magazine often criticises Pharma for distorting evidence so I'm not sure what to make of that. Also if the magazine is called What Doctors Don't Tell You it seems odd to tout the fact that you're taking editorial advice from them.

While I am not a medical science writer I've done a fair bit of it (only 8 years, so I can see immediately how my qualifications fall dramatically short of theirs) and am not too bad at critical appraisal. Really, anyone who's been trained as a scientist is reasonably competent to critically appraise scientific or medical information - and we can all improve with practice.

WDDTY's message is that we're not qualified to comment on their magazine. While I maintain that anyone who can make sense of evidence is qualified to do this, it's not at all clear who WDDTY would accept as suitable:
  • Not the eight of us because we're not medically trained
  • Not doctors because they are medically trained...
  • ... except some doctors who agree with them.
In addition to my sciencey qualifications I actually think that my most relevant-to-WDDTY one is that most of the complaints I put in to the ASA result in upheld adjudications or are informally resolved. I can think of only two that were rejected outright - one because the ASA disagreed with me and thought the advert wasn't misleading, the other one (recently) was because the complaint didn't actually fall within their remit.

Others have shared the Facebook status, taking WDDTY's message that we're not qualified to comment -

Personally I think the first line should read "This important magazine is being written by people who have no credentials whatsoever to give opinions on medical issues..."  my criticism is not about anyone's qualifications but based on the evidence of the magazine's published output. 

I'm a little bit miffed about the last line of course because my qualifications and experience are all about the health and medical field, just not as a doctor.

They end with:
"...write to Tesco today and ask them to re-stock What Doctors Don’t Tell You. And tell them a bit more about the people who fire off ‘complaints’ – that they are neither true customers nor people with either the training or experience to evaluate the information in our pages:"

Unfortunately for WDDTY I (and the others mentioned) have both the training and experience to evaluate the information in their pages, and that's why they're a bit mean about us.

Others' take on being included in the list (will add as more are written)
Skepticat aka Maria

Guy Chapman's blahg
WDDTY goes "the full Errol"

WWDDTYDTY (What What Doctors Don't Tell You Don't Tell You)
Meet the people who would dictate your health care