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, 28 December 2019

How will you celebrate Buntingmas? Craft ideas and classroom activities.

**NEW** instructions for very easy paper bunting "How to make low-tech bunting from paper"

Buntingmas (or The Festival of Bunting) is a thing I invented in 2019 to celebrate bunting. The first Buntingmas is on Saturday 11th April 2020. I'm still working out the details ;)

While I'm not particularly pro-monarchy (I don't much mind them) I remember greatly enjoying the 'floribunta' that bloomed across UK high streets in 2011 when one of the royals got married. There were also bunting fights in supermarkets as they ran out of the tethered celebratory flags. Tom Scott created Buntify the internets, a bunting overlay for websites that wanted to do do their civic bunting duty. It was a bit of fun that let you add bunting and a patriotic jingle to any website. Then in 2012 we had all the Olympic bunting so there were a couple of years of fairly heavy bunting exposure.

The very simple aim of Buntingmas is to 'put up' some bunting in whatever way 'put up' is relevant for you. If you hate bunting don't do that and instead you are merely encouraged to 'put up with' bunting.

I think of the 'type specimen' of bunting as a series of fabric pointed flags strung together but it's up to each individual Buntingmas celebrant to decide what sort of flags, pennants or other types of bunting to use.

1. Craft options
2. Classroom activities and other educational opportunities
3. Gallery of my favourite bunting

1. Craft options might include paper/card and string bunting, knitted or crocheted bunting as well as the more classic fabric bunting creations. There's also bunting jewellery made of polymer clay, bunting 'toppers' to stick on cakes or fondant edible bunting as in the video below. Sometimes there are bunting making classes / workshops.

Or you can just buy bunting.

2. Classroom activities and other educational opportunities
While bunting has a celebratory air about it, the wider use of flags as a communication tool is pretty fun and interesting.
  • Signal flags and codes in the classroom
  • How to teach semaphore using flags
  • For younger classrooms each child could make a 'personal flag' (including stuff on it that they feel best represents them) either to decorate the room or take home. The instructions suggest getting other classmates to guess who created each flag.

The photo of the flags on a boat below actually spell out 'Welcome Aboard', using the code of the international maritime signal flags. I have a tea-towel with the signal flags info on it (Mr Brown also wears an apron with the pattern on in Paddington 2).

3. Gallery of my favourite bunting
All photos taken by me, most are on Twitter.

Tiger / Flying Tiger occasionally also sells mini bunting as well as larger garlands.

Mini-bunting above comes from Tiger in Lewisham, though it has shops all over the place. This bunting is permanently installed above my kitchen door.

I created the above space-themed bunting using laminated paper (designed on PowerPoint, with images added). It tells the story of the film I'm screening (The Dish) at the 2018 Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival. The bunting is attached to one of the guy ropes holding up the open air screen set up in the grounds of Charlton House. My boss' son now owns this bunting. (I also made some work-themed bunting for my boss' office).

Imagine all this bunting whiffling in the breeze at the 2017 Wilderness Festival. Someone had festooned the Information Tent with colourful bunting making it very easy to find.

This is a lantern I made for the Dec 2018 Blackheath Village Day at the bunting making workshops held in Blackheath Halls / Conservatoire. The logo / theme of BVD is actually bunting (!) so I adopted that for the theme of my lantern, lit with a battery-operated tea-light.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Misleading homeopathy marketing (again) - complaint submitted to Advertising Standards Authority

I'm grateful to 'BrownBagPantry' the prolific tweeter of homeopathy-related matters. Her screenshot of Alan's (zeno001) tweet alerted me to a problem with the claims made by Highgate Holistic Clinic in a tweet and on their website. I would have missed his tweet on the #homeopathy tag as Alan hadn't tagged it, so my thanks to BrownBagPantry for being solely responsible for bringing it to my attention and causing me to submit a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the clinic's misleading advertising. Had I been looking at the tag on Christmas Day I might well have seen the clinic's own tweet (as they did hashtag it) but I wasn't, so all credit to BrownBagPantry.

Normally if I'd spotted one of Alan's tweets about a misleading advert I'd have DMed him asking if he'd reported it and he might reply that he had, or that someone else had already done so, or that he was perhaps waiting until after the holidays before tackling it etc. However that's not going to happen today as I'm just going to get on with the complaint and add the text here here.

I've taken screenshots of the tweet and parts of the website to share with the ASA though I hadn't planned to add them here.

Background research
Highgate Holistic Clinic's website claims that the homeopath is a registered member of the Society of Homeopaths however double-checking on the 'Find a Homeopath' site indicates that she's a member of the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths, but doesn't mention SoH membership. As a courtesy I'll let the SoH know about this in case she isn't and the info is incorrect.

Text of my complaint to the ASA
Note - the online form doesn't permit hyperlinks (where the link is behind a word) so the link was pasted in full in a list at the end with a number in brackets next to the relevant part of my text, eg [1]. It also doesn't permit bold or italic so the text has been slightly reformatted for clarity here. The text of a complaint must also be less than 5,000 characters (I had about 1,800 to spare).

--oo--   --oo--   --oo--   --oo--   --oo--   --oo--   --oo--

I'm complaining about a tweet from a clinic, the text of which implies that homeopathy can cure conditions, and the content of two pages from the clinic's website.

The tweet
"#Homeopathy is based on the principle of ‘like cures like’. In other words, a substance taken in small amounts will cure the same symptoms it causes if taken in large amounts." - it is not possible for homeopathy to cure any symptoms so the text of this tweet is misleading.

The tweet links to a page on the clinic's website, which says
"Danielle Abramov is committed to homeopathy as it treats the person as a whole without the side effects of conventional medicine" - I think this statement may discourage people from visiting a doctor or from taking real medicine. It implies that medicine offers only side effects.

"...working with them towards improving their health naturally – offering a real alternative to or support for conventional treatment." - this implies that homeopathy is an alternative to conventional treatment, and also implies that it is a 'real' alternative. It isn't. I've no objection to 'support for conventional treatment' though.

"In India homeopathy is considered to be equal to allopathic medicine." - this is largely untrue but what is relevant here is the implication that homeopathy should be considered as some sort of real thing, implying that it can help people.

"Danielle Abramov is also a qualified Vega practitioner. The Vega machine is a non-invasive, painless, diagnostic tool for determining some of the causes of ill health, be it persistent viral, fungal or bacterial overload, vitamin or mineral deficiency, food intolerance or emotional blocks." - the Vega machine is not a valid diagnostic tool and you have previously noted that it is "not capable of diagnosing [respiratory allergy and sensitisation to common aero-allergens]", I do not believe it is capable of diagnosing viral, fungal or bacterial overload either. Also a lay homeopath [one who is not also a doctor or other healthcare professional] is unlikely to be competent to diagnose any health conditions (using this or any other 'diagnostic' tool).

The website also has a page on therapies that includes a section on homeopathy
The section on homeopathy says that it "... can help with many issues such as Asthma, Anxiety, Allergies, Bronchitis, Childhood Diseases

Coughs, Colds and Sore Throats, Depression, Digestive Disorders, Earache, Eczema, Exhaustion, Emotional issues, Fibroids, Grief, Headaches & Migraines, Menopause, Menstrual Complaints & Infertility, Pregnancy & Birth, Sleep Problems, Thyroid Imbalances, Urinary Disorders, Vaccination Side-Effects, Varicose Veins etc.
" - none of these can be helped by homeopathy, some are serious medical conditions that need appropriately qualified medical care and support. I also do not believe that homeopaths or clinics are allowed to list named conditions.

--oo--   --oo--   --oo--   --oo--   --oo--   --oo--   --oo--

What happens next?
Several years ago the ASA changed the way it handled homeopathy-related complaints. Rather than asking homeopaths to provide evidence for particular claims the ASA took a more holistic view and, recognising that homeopathy doesn't work for any condition, determined that any homeopathy claim was misleading and that there was no need to undertake an investigation for each complaint submitted. Instead, each complaint is handled as a case of non-compliance by the Compliance Team - so my complaint will be handled by them and I won't know the outcome (only adjudications are published).

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Blog stats for this blog part 10 (25 December 2019)

tl;dr version
I've been blogging at Google's Blogger for over 10 years now and Blogger records over 2.9m visits for this Stuff that occurs to me blog, but Google Analytics tends to be vastly more conservative and suggests it's nearer ~700,000 visitors and ~800,000 visits (ie each person visiting slightly more than one page). In 2019 I've had about 13,000 visitors here, quite a big drop from when I was posting about three or four times as many posts on this blog. I'm blogging more elsewhere (How to Do Various Techy Things had 149,000 visitors this year for example).

Every year I post the blog stats for this blog, and this is my tenth year of doing so (previous years at the end). I do it in case other people might be nosey :)

There seems to be a correlation between the number of posts I write on this blog and its visitors / pageviews, apart from an odd blip in December 2016. I don't have a posting schedule, as the title of this blog suggests I literally only post 'Stuff that occurs to me', as and when it occurs. As I blog a lot elsewhere too this site has diminished somewhat.

  • Table 1: Blog posts per year, by year (= how many blog posts have I written each year?)
  • Fig 1: Blogger's 'all time view' for this site
  • Table 2: Blog stats, by month, for 2019 (= how many people visited this blog, per month, this year?)
  • Table 3: Annual and lifetime views of this blog (= how many people visited this blog each year and the overall total?)
  • Fig 2: Google Analytics 'all time view' for this site
  • Fig 3: The most popular posts on this blog, all time, Blogger stats
  • Particular features of this blog
  • All previous annual stats overview posts, by year

Table 1: Blog posts per year, by year

2009 (45)
2010 (77)
2011 (89)
2012 (141)
2013 (141)
2014 (100)
2015 (50)
2016 (40)
2017 (45)
2018 (30)
2019 (33)

Fig 1: Blogger's 'all time view' for this site 
 Fig 1: Blogger stats 'all time view'. All time views as of today is 2,971,921

I briefly switched off this blog in Dec 2016 as I seemed to be getting a suspiciously high number of visits from Russia (I assumed bots) and January is still showing unusually high numbers. You can see the December blip in the all-time view from Blogger above (Fig 1). 

The most interesting thing about the stats for me is always the vast difference between Blogger's pageviews (1st column in Table 2) and Google Analytics' (3rd column in Table 2). This is generally understood to be because Blogger counts every 'hit' including Google's indexing crawlers and not just real people. I've also included the number of people visiting each month (2nd column), to my knowledge Blogger doesn't provide that info. Odd because Blogger 'is' Google. See explanation below for what numbers in brackets  mean.

Table 2: Blog stats, by month, for 2019
Month              Pageviews (Blogger)      Visitors (Google)         Page views (Google)
January (7) 10,665 1,312 1,508
February (0)   9,494 1,121 1,306
March (2)   9,455 1,041 1,207
April (4) 10,058   928 1,005
May (3) 10,720 1,105 1,247
June (0)   9,401 1,113 1,252
July (3)   9,851 1,246`̉ 1,395
August (1) 11,108 1,237 1,436
September (2)   9,115 1,086 1,283
October (4) 11,891 1,212 1,490
November (4) 13,338 1,053 1,254
December (3)   8,235..    963 1,339
Total (33)        115,096..                          13,316                           15,722

Table 2 info
Figures in brackets next to the month are the number of blog posts published that month.

Table 3: Annual and lifetime views of this blog

Year              Pageviews (Blogger)      Visitors (Google) Page views(Google)
2010 (77) 23,351     9,630*   18,958*
2011 (89) 65,972   22,343   40,263
2012 (141) 187,506   57,040   77,869
2013 (141) 553,064 136,941 164,352
2014 (100) 779,632 199,217 226,419
2015 (50) 498,355 113,129 130,115
2016 (40) 379,613   66,614   77,092
2017 (45) 202,609   42,090   46,179
2018 (29) 141,815   20,725   24,044
2019 (33) 123,331   13,316   15,722
Lifetime      2,955,248                            681,045                 821,013
                    2,971,857*                          680,073^               824,140^^

Table 3 info
Figures in brackets next to the year are the number of blog posts published that year.
*I began counting stats on Google Analytics in April 2010. Blogger began its own stats system in July 2010.
*, ^ and ^^ are counts of everything in the columns above done in different ways hence a slight disparity.

Fig 2: Google Analytics 'all time view'.

 Fig 2: Google Analytics' 'all time view'.

 Fig 3. Most visited posts for this blog (for all time) 
Fig 3: The most popular posts on this blog
Features of my blog to take into account
Or, mitigating circumstances / excuses ;)
  • People find my posts almost entirely through search engine results (I don't promote my blog heavily on social media, though I do mention it fairly regularly)
  • The most popular posts here are about how to do something, often on Twitter - the answer to people's question(s) can usually be found within the first summary, or tl;dr, paragraph or the title, with the rest of the post containing supplemental information. This means that I have a VERY high bounce rate (91%) - people arrive, see the answer, leave. If this were a sales website that would be disastrous but as a largely 'how to' info blog that's OK. 
  • My blog is about many different things and therefore unfocused.
  • I don't have a regular posting schedule and literally post stuff as it occurs to me, which is appropriate given the name of the blog. Sometimes two posts in a day, sometimes nothing for weeks.
  • I have several other blogs including a dedicated 'howto' blog where I post most of my instructional posts. I also have one for stuff near Blackheath, one to collect recipes that weren't too disastrous), not to mention work blogs - so I am rather spreading myself thinly and this is reflected in fewer posts here and consquently fewer visits/-ors.

Previous posts about this blog's stats

    Sunday, 15 December 2019

    "Book Keengwe" regularly sends me what appears to be academic spam emails about computing education

    I've not managed to make sense of this one yet. It appears that there really is someone at North Dakota called [Redacted] or [Redacted] Keengwe who does write academic books but I'd be surprised if they're the author of these emails, as they seem pretty spammy. Possibly Book Keengwe is misusing the real person's name and the university name to spam anyone with an academic email address so I've let the university know, though I realise there's probably not much they can do. The emails all come from a Gmail account rather than the UND address, so a little suspicious perhaps.

    Because I wasn't initially certain that they were spam I'd replied to a few of them, initially to explain that "I have no competence in this area and assume these emails have been sent in error, Jo", in response to a request about 'Handbook of Research on Online Pedagogical Models for Mathematics Teacher Education' (I think that reply was sent last year).

    More recently in November 2019 I replied more tersely "Please do not send these requests to me. I am deleting them unread and have no interest or expertise in this area. I have previously told you this but it seems to have not made a difference." in response to a request about a "Book on Innovations in Non-Traditional Educational Practices - Proposals Due Dec. 1, 2019". I was assured in a reply that would be the last I'd hear of it. Hmm.

    At this point I set things up so that anything from this email address would be deleted before coming to my mailbox. This works well on my computer... but annoyingly not on my iPhone, so I spotted another one this morning, reproduced below with the subject 'Equity in Computer Science - Final Call for Chapter Proposals - Due Dec 23, 2019'. This entire blog post (and my contacting the U of N Dakota) is my response to that ;)

    I'd also previously contacted my employer's IT helpdesk and JISC (who host academic email addresses) and asked them to stop this spam ('Handbook of Research on Integrating Computer Science and Computational Thinking in K-12 Education') from reaching any other academic address but alas they can't as we've all moved on to Office 365 so Microsoft are now in charge of what's spam. So I'm publishing this blog post in case anyone else is searching for Book Keengwe-related information.

    While I do work in computing education I'm an administrator not an academic so unsuitable as an author, and I'm certainly not going to ping out manuscripts to people with no information about how royalties, if any, would be shared. There was a PDF attached with the email but I've deleted it unread in case it was iffy.

    Text (names redacted)

    Proposal Submission Deadline: December 23, 2019

    Handbook of Research on Equity in Computer Science in P-16 Education

    A book edited by: [Redacted], University of North Dakota, USA & [Redacted] Montclair State University, USA.

    The growing trend for high-quality computer science (CS) in school curricula has drawn attention in U.S. classrooms. With an increasingly information-based and global society, CS education coupled with computational thinking (CT) has become an integral part of an experience for all students, given that these foundational concepts and skills intersect cross-disciplinarily with a set of mental competencies that are relevant in their daily lives and work. While many agree that these concepts should be taught in schools, there are systematic inequities that exist to prevent students from accessing related CS or CT skills. Therefore, this handbook will highlight relevant issues, perspectives, and challenges in P-16 environments that relate to the inequities that students face in accessing CS or CT and methods for challenging these inequities in hopes to achieve the CSforAll movement.

    The chapters will highlight the issues, perspectives, and challenges faced in P-16 environments (i.e. gender and racial imbalances of students in CS classes; population of growing CS teachers who are predominantly white and male; what and who are the high-school gate keepers of CS courses; teacher preparation or lack of faculty expertise; professional development programs; and college admission criteria for CS programs). Book will also explore the challenges and policies that are created to limit access, and thus, reinforce systems of power and privilege.

    Suggested themes include, but are not limited to the following: CS/CT Definitions—for who/whom is it intended for; CS Standards; CS/CT Access—what are the implications and limitations across P-16; CS courses & AP Testing: Current Numbers; Teacher Preparation in CS: Preservice and Inservice programs; Evaluation and assessment of CS/CT; and Suggestions and strategies for challenging existing notions.

    Potential contributors are invited to submit 1-2 pages chapter proposal (or full chapter draft) outlining the proposed topic and/or issue to be discussed on or December 23, 2019. Authors of accepted proposals will be notified by January 5, 2020 about the status of their proposals and will be sent chapter guidelines. Full chapters are expected on or before March 15, 2020. All chapters will undergo double-blind review and returned to authors with suggestions for improvement. Revisions are expected by April 15, 2020. Final Materials are expected by May 1, 2019.

    Inquiries and submissions can be forwarded electronically (Word document) to:
    [Redacted, but name and affiliation used is a real person, but a different non-academic email address is given]

    Wednesday, 4 December 2019

    What Doctors Don't Tell You magazine returns as Get Well magazine in UK shops

    tl;dr: I've asked Sainsbury's why they've started selling Get Well magazine (also known as What Doctors Don't Tell You and WDDTY) again, having previously stopped selling it, and their spokesperson said -
    “We stock over 700 different publications and, with the exception of explicit material, we do not routinely make a judgement on content.

    We are however aware of the concerns around this magazine so have taken the decision to review whether we will continue to stock it.”
     Of course they could decide that their review has convinced them to continue to stock it...

    It seems I've not written on this blog about What Doctors Don't Tell You aka WDDTY aka Get Well (its new branding) magazine since 2014. Around that time (2012-2014) the magazine was on sale in a number of UK supermarkets before the efforts of doctors, scientists, activists and skeptics got it largely removed, though it crept back in a few places.

    Concerns about the content of and advice given in the magazine had done the rounds in mainstream and social media / blogs. Tom Whipple reported in The Times (Oct 2013) that there had been a "Call to ban magazine for scaremongering". Dr Margaret McCartney tore strips off it ("ridiculously alarmist") in an exchange with one of the editors, Lynne McTaggart, and umpired by Dr Mark Porter on Inside Health (Oct 2012). A big chunk of the advertising within the magazine was found to be in breach of the Advertising Standards Authority's codes.

    The best place to get an overview of the catalogue of the various magazine articles considered problematic is on Josephine Jones' blog: "WDDTY: My master list" which links most of the mainstream articles and blogs, and gives a timeline of events.

    Earlier this year the magazine sent an email to subscribers highlighting that they were rebranding the version of the magazine on sale in UK stores as 'Get Well' though keeping the 'What Doctors Don't Tell You' branded version for subscribers.

    The magazine now seems to have reappeared in Sainsbury's and concerns were immediately raised about that and about one article in particular called 'Reversing Autism' which is a story of one woman and her autistic son. There has been an emerging Twitter campaign to ask @Sainsbury's to remove the magazine from its shelves and shops. I contacted their press team, explained I was going to write about the magazine's reappearance there and asked if they'd be happy to explain why they decided to start stocking it again. The quote above was the reply. I hope they will decide to stop stocking it but have spotted the ambiguity in the spokesperson's quote.

    I have not seen the magazine myself 'in the wild' for a number of years but have no reason to doubt everyone on Twitter who's saying it's reappeared.

    My favourite of WDDTY's errors
    On 1 July 2014 the magazine editors wrote a Facebook post about several of the people who'd written or complained about the magazine and they somehow managed to include me in this. Amusingly there were a number of errors in there (my name spelled wrongly, they said I worked for someone I'd never heard of, my efforts to get them to correct this went nowhere) but more interesting was the tiny error they made about how many people followed Simon Singh on Twitter.

    Here's what the post said "Their numbers aren’t large (there’re only about 80 of them in total), and they aren’t well followed ... Simon Singh, just 44 actively following him..."

    Here's a screenshot of his Twitter profile from 2014.

    As of 2014 Simon was following 44 people and had 54.1k followers.

    They'd simply got it the wrong way around, an easy thing to fix. Everyone pointed this error out assuming that the 'cognitive typo' as I called it would be quietly fixed and we'd move on.

    In an unusual scene in the Facebook comment thread they instead offered this clarification - "Just to set the record straight.Simon Singh has had 54k people over the years who have, at some point, tuned into his Tweets. But the actual number of people who are actively following him at this time are, as I said, 44." 

    This is just not true.