Stuff that occurs to me

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

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

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

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

Monday, 13 March 2017

BBC Radio 4 programme seeks men to talk (anonymously) about erectile dysfunction

I've had permission to post this. My friend Petra (she's the Telegraph's agony aunt among many other cool things) is involved in a BBC R4 programme looking at erectile problems and the programme's producer is looking for men who'd like (well, are willing) to be interviewed - anonymously if preferred.

There are many reasons for erection problems and diabetes can be one of them (long term raised blood glucose levels can lead to problems with blood vessels and nerves in general) which can affect any area in the body including the erectile 'machinery', and so I'm sharing this in particular with diabetes people. People who have diabetes may also experience anxiety over their health and this can be pretty antithetical to enjoying any pleasant pursuit, let alone sexual activities - it doesn't always have to mean a straightforward physical problem.

Here's Petra'a information and advice (covering a range of possible reasons for erectile dysfunction) to a woman whose partner experiences this, and below is the text of her producer's request...

To whom it may concern

I am making a programme for BBC Radio Four looking at erectile dysfunction and erection problems and wondered if you would consider being interviewed for the project. We are looking for men to share their experiences so we can highlight this very common but little talked about condition. If you were willing to talk to us, you would not need to reveal your identity.

The programme is 30 minutes long and will be broadcast on BBC Radio Four in June. It’s presented by Dr Petra Boynton who is a psychologist with a specialism in sex and relationships and works as an agony aunt for the Telegraph. She is experienced in offering advice and support to men and women with sexual problems and will be carrying out the interviews. We are hoping making the programme will encourage men to talk and seek help if they need to.

We are looking for men of any age who have or have had erection problems. We are keen to speak to men who have had problems following health issues as well as those who have psychological barriers or unknown causes for their erection difficulties.
Questions might be:
  • What erection problems do you have?
  • Do you know why it came about?
  • How soon did you seek help?
  • How did having erection difficulties make you feel?
  • How did your partner support you (or not)?
  • In what way did you seek help yourself?
  • What was useful and why? What wasn’t?
  • What treatment has helped?
  • How do you accept erection dysfunction if treatment doesn't work and you don't want surgery?
  • Why do men find it hard to talk and what is key to changing that?
Interviews would take around twenty minutes and would really just be like having an informal chat. They would be pre-recorded (not live) so you could have a chance to retake answers if you were unhappy with what you’d said.

If you have any other questions do let me know. Or if you would like to chat further before you commit to an interview, my email is and my mobile is 07740 565996

Thanks in advance.

Henrietta Harrison
Loftus Media

Monday, 6 March 2017

Things I found helpful when visiting New York from the UK

Updated June 2018

New York's lovely - I managed not to get lost (unprecedented given I have until this point had no sense of direction, but I seem to be managing with the grid system and the free CityMapper app) and of course there was no language barrier.

1. Insurance
 Once you've sorted out your flights or ship crossing get your travel insurance - it will cover you if anything goes wrong before your trip starts so there's no benefit in leaving it to the last minute. If you're taking laptops and phones you might need additional cover.

2. Esta visa
Next on the list is the Esta visa waiver which costs about $14 - you can pay with a debit card (it implies you need to pay with a credit card but I managed on a debit one) or PayPal. Watch out for fake UK versions (one or two are under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority for misleadingly claiming to be of use). Only use this website -

You'll need your passport number and the address where you'll be staying (eg hotel) but you can also quit the application and return later - keep a note of your application number which is automatically generated.

When you arrive at the US airport if it's your first visit to the US you'll probably be directed through the 'first visit on an Esta' passport check.

The ESTA is valid for two years (unless any info you gave it changes) and your passport queue will be shorter on the second visit which I found to my delight. It still took over an hour from landing at JFK to getting through the system.

3. Flying
I flew (2017) with Virgin Atlantic. If you make the same journey(s) I made you'll leave from Terminal 3 at Heathrow (the Paddington Express train will take you to Terminals 2 and 3 at the same station and you can just follow the signs for T3) and arrive at Terminal 4 in JFK, then reversed.

In June 2018 I took BA from Heathrow Terminal 5 (Paddington Express' last stop, takes about 22 mins) arriving at JFK Terminal 7. At Heathrow I discovered that you are pretty much on your own, printing out your own boarding card then affixing a luggage tag to your own bag. I found it pretty dispiriting with unclear instructions. Once I got through security things improved though.

3b. At-seat mobile phone charging
Virgin Air 2017: You may need to carry on your adapter. The option at my seat was an odd-looking small hosepipe affair that required a UK to US adaptor to work, fortunately I had one in my carry-on bag and was able to lend it to someone else who needed one.

BA 2018: There were two USB charging units beneath the screen in front of me so that was quite handy to keep my phone charged.

4. Money
I got travel money from my bank - I'm sure you can find cheaper places to get it but it's super convenient at your bank. With smaller branches you might have to give a few days notice so that they can get the dollars but I got mine from the large one at Strand, Trafalgar Square. While in the bank I also let them know that I was to be in New York on the days of my holiday so that if my debit card was used while there they knew it was likely to be me and not some scammer.

For the 2017 trip I also got myself a Credit Card in case I needed to use it but I haven't. Last time I got one was for a cruise holiday where I needed it to pay for incidentals (they didn't go for debit cards).

2018 - as above, I found that some places in New York accepted my debit card with no problem, at other places it was declined so I had to use cash. 

5. Maps
You can use Google Maps Streetview before you go, or once there, to see what your locality will be like, and make note of subway and bus stops. There's a nice foldable detailed map of the metro system which my hotel gave me - if you're self-catering I'd recommend asking a hotel receptionist for one anyway. I didn't spot any at any of the stations I visited oddly enough. I used CityMapper on my phone to get directions.

6. Local travel
New York taxis are mostly much smaller than London cabs and quite useless for sightseeing. The two I was in were more like regular cars (not the four seat arrangement with a large gap between). You're very close to the glass partition and if you're on the passenger side the chances are high that you'll have a medium-sized TV in front of you advertising crap at you. It's possible to mute the sound at least but there's not much window space to see what's in front of you so a bus is better. But the cabs are still pretty cool.

A weekly Metrocard costs ~$32 and lets you have unlimited subway and bus journeys. You just swipe it and push the barrier. The graphics of the card looks very much like Weetabix.

I was staying in Brooklyn so on the return journey I took the A train going to Far Rockaway or Rockaway Avenue and changed at Howard Beach for the AirTrain to JFK Terminal 4. There's a slow train and a fast one but both seem to go to Howard Beach, phew. I took it from Jay Street Metrotech and this is the CityMapper journey using the web browser version.

8. Mobile phone
Before I left I got my pay as you go phone unlocked so that I didn't have to spend ridiculous sums of money on calls / texts to UK while in the US. If you've got a contract yours probably won't be that expensive but worth checking with your provider before you go. I got a US sim card which let me make US calls only, but I was also able to communicate via WhatsApp and Twitter via the hotel wifi. It was also my first experience of 4G, having only access to 3G at home (with my set-up).

I was surprised to see, at JFK airport on my return, that there are vending machines that sell pre-paid sim cards with different options, though it turns out from looking at them that my in-shop deal was pretty decent.

2018 - do not buy SIM cards from self-service machines at JFK. I wasted $60 on one and 90 minutes on the phone trying to activate the damn thing. I managed to get it working for telephony only, but no internet (which is all that I wanted, to be able to access CityMapper as well as email / internet etc). Eventually I gave up and tried T-mobile (my old iPhone 5s won't work with anything they had so they recommended AT&T on 7th Avenue between 42nd and 43rd. Five minutes and $25 later and I had 2GB internet only (the package is designed for tablets so no telephony).

9. Software support
I use WorkFlowy for making lists (eg for packing or tasks) and Evernote to record info about my trip. I have sections for flight, travel documents (passport / visa), hotel details and packing. Both sync with my phone. I also tag emails in Gmail and keep them in a dedicated folder (before you leave make sure they've synced / downloaded to the right folder). While here I used CityMapper on my phone and switched cities from London to New York (it automatically recognises if you're in a different city and suggests this).

I also kept an eye on the weather app on my phone which told me that New York was going to be both much warmer and much colder than London, so I could pack accordingly.

10. Paper-based support
I'm naturally fairly chaotic so to impose some order I use a clipboard and draw columns on a bit of paper. A small one on the right is for anything that needs to be done or bought in advance of leaving and I have two larger main ones, one each for the bags I'm packing. I have been using WorkFlowy for so long that I now have a very good generic list of things to pack which I adapt for each trip. Once I've packed an item in the bag I write it on the paper (handy for double-checking I've not lost anything on the return journey). I'm afraid I'm neither relaxed nor carefree about holidays ;)

This is highly personalised to me, but here's the gist of what I packed.

  • Spare shoes (always nice to have another pair to change into if you can carry them, if not a pair of insoles can be nice if you're doing a lot of walking on your visit)
  • Spare pair of jeans
  • 'Smalls' - socks and the like - the longer you're away the fewer of these you can pack as you can wash and dry them. For a short holiday my mantra is 'plenty'. Most of them fit into the spare shoes rolled up
  • T-shirts - if just a few I leave them flat, if more I roll them
  • Leggings / thermals
  • Wash bag (deodorant, nail scissors are useful for all sorts of reasons but best kept in checked in bag unless blades are very small) 
  • a bag to put laundry in
  • bit of A5 paper (A4 folded in half!) with my name, phone number and email address saying who the bag belongs to - handy if it gets lost or there's a dispute ;) 
Sporty people might want to bring gym or pool clothing too. I was dressing casually for a walking around New York trip and didn't bring any smart clothes or jewellery.

I don't have any prescription medication or glasses / contacts but if you do...

Carry-on bag
  • Passport
  • Flight info 
  • Print-out of Esta visa
  • Hotel contact details so that I can give it to the taxi
  • Pens / Pencils and writing material
  • Maps of New York - when you first arrive your phone's SIM may not work so your phone will be temporarily useless
  • Reading material
  • Mobile phone charger, cable and UK to US adaptor - you may need this while on the plane (in the UK!) to charge your phone on the plane
  • wet wipes / plasters / ibuprofen
  • spare t-shirt / underwear in case main bag goes AWOL
  • laptop plus charging cable
  • Snacks / chewing gum / water 
  • headphones
  • currency of country being visited (home country currency is in my pockets until arrival)
  • toothpaste / brush (8 hour flight!)
If you're flying at night-time you might want to bring your pyjamas to change into.

  • Clothes, obviously
  • Keys 
  • Plastic bags for UK coins and any US coins for ease of plonking on tray at security
  • Bank cards / travelcard / keys (moved to carry-on bag once on flight)
  • Phone

Open air cinema screenings - London 2017

Yippee - it's a few weeks before London's annual Open Air Cinema season begins, which means that it's time for my annual Open Air Cinema Screenings in London post. Not many films have been listed yet but we've already had one screening, in February (!) though I'm more of a fan of waiting until it gets a little bit warmer myself. The actual post is an embedded Storify which is regularly updated as new films are published - feel free to pinch the text or embed the Storify into your own site. That way more people will get to know about open air movie options. Think of it as Creative Commons.

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