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 2017 scientific society talks in London blog post

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Confusing reversed passenger flow at Cannon Street tube station

tl;dr - a bleat about confusing tube-station signage, with everyone walking in the wrong direction.



Everyone who uses the underground learns, probably quite quickly, that you walk on the left and stand on the right (on an escalator). However there are a handful of tube stations on the system where parts of the passenger route ask you 'keep to the right' when walking - the upper level section of Baker Street and all of Cannon Street tube station come to mind.

I have no idea why Cannon Street tube station wants people to walk on the right and none of the staff I've spoken to seem to know either. Presumably someone deliberately made this decision after doing some test or other. I'm afraid it isn't working.

All the signs say 'keep right' but plenty of people ignore this.

The signs fail to take account of where people's eyes are looking, and fail to make it clear that something is different about this station. If you use are a user of a sytem in which almost every other station is 'keep left' then you can be forgiven for thinking you're meant to walk on the left. Signs on the left hand side will probably be seen, but ignored (other than one word being different the signs look identical so people probably don't even clock them) because people expecgt them to say 'Keep Left', and no-one's looking on the right hand side - why would they, they're walking on the left. Given that you're asking people to walk down the 'wrong' stairs the signs need to be positioned more obviously, on the ground with those shoe sole things indicating which direction to travel in, or a hanging sign above the staircase saying 'this way' or 'no entry'.

If you want users (passengers) to follow your instructions then you need to design the system to accommodate their prior expectations and make it very clear that something is different at this station.

My advice is simple and effective - and it would save a lot of confusion for the passengers who do see and obey the signs and find themselves facing lots of oncoming commuters. Remove the damn signs completely. Everyone already knows to keep left and the lack of signs means that people will simply default to that (in fact that is what they are already doing now, because they're certainly not seeing or paying attention to the signs). Those that don't know* will fall in with everyone else walking left and won't be confused by signs telling them something different. This will also be a lot cheaper than re-signing the station.

It would be interesting to know if there's a particularly good reason why someone thought everyone should move on the right. If it's absolutely essential for people to keep right (have to assume it isn't given that almost no-one does) then (a) make the signs look really, really different fromt the Keep Left ones and (b) think about where people's eyes are actually pointing as they move around the station, and put the signs there.

*The current system is confused as regulars walk on the left and visitors / tourists (often with large bags) look for the signs and obey them, with the result that everyone has to walk around each other on busy stairs.




Wednesday, 9 August 2017

A lovely time at Wilderness Festival 2017, or 'camping while slightly unfit' ;)

I've not been to an on-site camping-based music festival in about 20 years, and I've not been camping for 10 years (after a handful of brilliant bushcraft weekends with Woodsmoke in the Lake District) so I was pretty thoughtful about spending five days and four nights away in a tent. Knowing that I could bail at any moment and get a taxi back to a train station (or to London if it came to it!) or a hotel might have offered an additional reassurance of course. But in the end I had a great time and didn't freeze or get too soaked, bit of sunburn but nothing awful.

And I met Tom Hollander, which was a lovely surprise.

Tom Hollander reading a letter at Letters Live

Table of contents
  • On-site help
  • Getting there
  • General packing advice
  • Tent / camping
  • Mistakes I made
  • General foot comfort
  • Loos
  • Showers
  • Food
  • Bunting
  • Phone charging
  • Phone signal
  • Useful information I kept on my phone
  • Family friendly
  • Torches
  • Keeping dry / weather
  • What I would change (more informative website, ISS pass announcements)


All the Letters Live people (minus Russell Brand who's not in shot)

On-site help
They have a general store in the main arena that sells soft drinks, sun lotion, lighters, stoves, sleeping bags, ground sheets, tent pegs, toothpaste - pretty much anything you've forgotten. They also sell spring onions, presumably for the campers determined to cook - though I kept a fascinated eye on them and don't think they sold (m)any. There's an Information Tent which is very helpful, also each campsite has its own welfare tent if you get into difficulties. They also have lockers where you can charge your phone (!) though I brought chargers and lasted five days. There are also cash machines. Are all festivals like this now? I might have gone to a few more if I'd known!

I recommend actively checking in with the Information Tent to hear if there are any changes to the programme or exciting additions. Physical programmes are compact thick booklets full of info for £10.

The bunting outside the Information Tent

If you're leaving on the last day of the festival note that the arena and stalls will be closed so pick up your breakfast provisions (in my case a Snickers bar and can of diet coke) on the day before.


Getting there
I am not one for walking long distances holding tents and camping mats and would rather take a coach that drops me off inside the venue than a train that doesn't and where I can't be certain of the taxis. I had a great journey from Blackheath to Victoria rail, then from the coach station to the venue - two hours, easy peasy. We left at 10am and I was tent-up by 1pm and having a light snooze before exploring. Thank you National Express. The return journey was also good although the traffic was so ridiculously busy we left an hour and a half after the scheduled time.

I enjoyed arriving the day before everything got going and having a chance to check out the lay of the land (and where all the food stalls were) while there were considerably fewer people.

General packing advice
Put everything in a plastic bag before putting into main bag and squeeze the air out of it as much as possible, I used sandwich bags a lot. While I knew where everything was at the start (I am a maker of lists) it all got a bit more muddled as time went on, I might try mentally labelling each bag A, B etc and then each pocket is A1 or B4 - we'll see, it's a work in progress ;)

Tent / camping
For the benefit of my hands carrying stuff I prioritised lightness over all other considerations and ended up with a single-skin pop-up two man tent. There was just about enough room for my luggage, but not enough room to stand up or really sit up in. I need more room. Very easy to put up, not so difficult to put down though I still managed to break it, oops.

I am not one for kneeling or crawling around on grass and would prefer a bit more space for getting into the tent, there were quite a few graceless entrances and exits. When moving from wet outdoors to warm indoors I wanted to create a sort of interstitial space between the two, so this basically meant spare shoes that I could change into and get into / out of the tent with, using a spare ground sheet as the 'ante-room'. Lots of people much braver than me went barefoot, feet being neither absorbent nor having treads and so much easier to dry and keep clean. Flip-flops also good I suppose.

Quiet camping isn't all that quiet, but it turned out that family camping is also pretty disturbed too - people aren't that quiet. The quiet camping is further from the main stage but not from the other parties. 

Mistakes I made
  • trusting the piddly little tent pegs which bent easily in the tough terrain of Wilderness (fortunately I'd picked up a bag of extra-sturdy pegs from a pound shop)
  • not bringing a plastic mallet to hammer them in (borrowed one from a new neighbour, campers being a friendly, helpful bunch)
  • adding bunting to my tent - looked lovely but here's what happens when it rains and is windy. The rain that's on the outside of the rain is basically tapped through the single-skin tent as the wind flaps the bunting against the outside of the tent. After the first night I dispensed with the bunting.
  • forgot sun lotion, didn't bother to pick up spare though - didn't get too burned fortunately
  • packed sunglasses, forgot (every single day) to transfer them into my day bag so squinted
General foot comfort
There's a LOT of walking and standing around, unless you happen to find a seat (there are plenty, but a great deal of competition) and I'm not 20, or even 30. Over the five days I definitely got better at sitting on the grass and getting up again but I don't find it easy (don't really trust my knees or leg muscles not to give way during descent or ascent) so I kept spare socks and those insole things to hand. The site is large but while not massive you are moving around on different terrains, mostly grassy, with some inclines (I'm more worried about things sloping down than up as that's worse on the knees) so quite tiring to walk over. I moved very slowly, but pretty much constantly so ironically I'm a bit fitter than I was at the start.
Loos
Shout out to Andyloos whose loos were lovely. Clean, fragrant, constantly stocked with loo roll and hand sanitiser. Most of the loos had mirrors too. Absolutely amazing. At no point did I feel nauseous in the festival loos, and though the queues were occasionally long they moved quite quickly. I did pack a pound-shop variation on the Shewee in case of emergencies but didn't need it. Nor could I have used it in my tent as I wouldn't have been able to sustain the kneeling position to use it anyway, especially in the dark.

Crowd enjoying the Wilderness Orchestra at the Atrium on Sunday night

Showers
Each campsite had its own shower units with a fairly long queue for those. I'm afraid I dispensed with the concept of showering and used only baby wipes to maintain a minimal level of cleanliness. Just the thought of getting changed, then wet, then getting changed again - too much effort. A scent spray from Boots possibly helped a bit - which reminds me of a cartoon of a woman trying different scents in a shop and asking the opinion of the shop staff: "no madam, you're still coming through".

Food
Delicious and varied. There were options to have fancy dining experiences with long-table feasts for £80 but they sell out quite quickly and my friends with kids probably wouldn't have been that into it so I didn't splash out to go by myself. Maybe next year I will, I do quite fancy the idea.

Bunting
The Wilderness Festival is peak bunting. It's everywhere. Lovely stuff.

 Example of the various bunting, flagging and general garlanding plus moody cloud

Phone charging 
Can you believe it's taken me over six years of owning an iPhone to fully understand what switching off cellular data means. I thought it meant no internet AND no phone signal but no it only switches off internet - you can text and ring your mates nae bother without it (though can't share pictures through text as that seems to require an internet connection, fair enough). This fact alone guaranteed that my phone charge held for much longer than it might have. Amazing. I had packed several full-charged spare chargers and didn't have to use them all.

There are places on-site where you can charge your phone.

Phone signal
I had excellent 3G and general O2 text / call signal throughout the festival. It struggled a little on the last day (when everyone is packing up and arranging to meet people I suppose) but I didn't really need it then.

Useful information I kept on my phone
Obviously I had my National Express ticket in my emails but I kept a screenshot as well just in case of low signal. I also had a copy of the PDF map and various other files and bits and pieces in a folder on Dropbox. Before I set off I changed the setting on each file so that it was accessible if I had no signal. Dropbox on a phone is great for this.

Family friendly
It's the most ridiculously family-friendly festival I've ever heard of. Not only do they have a big dedicated kids' area with fun stalls full of things for smaller visitors, loads of adults had small trolleys with them for transporting their kids around the site. I'm not sure if they brought them with them or hired them but whoever came up with the idea is a genius.

Flowers (not real!) at the festival

Torches
It turns out I had four sources of light: my iPhone, headtorch, regular torch and one of the phone chargers also has a light. I kept my headtorch on me at all times so that I never had to go back to my tent at dusk in order to collect it for use later. When in use I kept it on my wrist to avoid blinding people.

Keeping dry / weather
I saw a few people with umbrellas but I find them fiddly to 'manage' so I got by with a pac-a-mac thing and a shower curtain (lighter than a ground sheet / tarp and does the job fine) for sitting on. Alas my legs are too chubby to fit comfortably in most wellies but my footwear is reasonably waterproof and we only had one major downpour.

The weather app on the iPhone was pretty reliable for keeping me informed. Annoyingly you kind of have to pack for rain and sunshine, though I was glad I did.

What I would change
Online information
There was a lot of information about dressing up and themes but I found the website info quite confusing. All I really wanted was a list of timings and answers to FAQs. I did find this information eventually but felt the website was more of a teaser for the event than informative.

Shush people in quiet camping
I'd have liked a bit more policing of the quiet camping area as people walked in having loud conversations and continued them inside the compound. My in-tent shushing was ineffective as they were too far away anyway. 

Announce ISS passes
A nice thing on Saturday night, after the special event on the main stage, was seeing the International Space Station going overhead. I was with very good friends and their kids (that I've known since they were born) so it was a lovely communal moment, among many. Lots of people were moving away from the main stage, as the event had ended, and none of them seemed to know about the ISS. I thought that was a tiny bit of a shame as it would have been lovely for everyone there to be able to look up and see it very clearly - on a lovely cloudless sky. It was beautiful. I wish I'd thought to ask them to make a public address system announcement about it.

As the ISS was due to pass over again on Sunday night I tried to suggest it at the Info Tent but they weren't buying it, and in any case it was cloudy anyway. But if you have an outdoor evening event and there's an ISS pass why not tell people about it.

 Moon peeking through the clouds