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 gmx DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Graphic design and picture resources

On my trawls through the web for media services, medical illustrators, graphic design and medical (and other) images I have come across the following which I'm recording here mostly for me but I hope others find it useful too.

Creative Commons
Search.CreativeCommons - click on the tab you want, eg Flickr, type in what you want (when I just tried this they had a default search for flowers which demonstrates the system) and you'll be given a set of pictures that you can choose from. Were you to search for 'food processor' you'd find one of mine (Jodiepedia) which has been gratifyingly used on the web :)

You can of course search both Flickr and Wikipedia (Wikimedia) databases directly but this global search is much quicker.

Media Services or Medical Illustrators based in London universities

UCL Information Services Division: Creative design services

UCL Medical School: Medical Illustration (Royal Free Campus)

St George's University of London: Media Services

Medical Illustration UK Ltd
(based in Chelsea & Westminster Hospital and the Charing Cross Hospital)

The latter two were found via the Institute of Medical Illustrators

Recommended on psci-com mailing list

Recommended on Twitter
Gareth at @Dot_Design, recommended by @imascientist

Crowdsource designers on the web (hat tip @mediaczar)

99 designs

A blog post comparing the two:

and how I heard about the crowdsourcing designers concept from @mediaczar
The Magic Bean Laboratory (see 'the brief' as well).

I used to do some freelance blurb-ing (generating 30 word precis and title from about-to-be published manuscripts) for BioMedCentral which included a bit of picture accessing and tweaking. As such the following websites are for medical images rather than general graphics - I've not included login details (it's private). You will have to judge for yourself whether an image or photo can be used.

Commercial and other
BioMed Central

Science Photo Library

Getty Images


Public health image library at the CDC
Most of the images are public domain. If the link randomly takes you to the Session Expired page, just click on the link to 're-establish'.

Wellcome Images

Science and Society Picture Library

Google - search for an image, and contact the people on whose page it is and see if you can use it.

iStock photo

Host and share your photos on the internet
A community of photographers

Thinkstock (formerly Ablestock)

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Finding things that aren't there any more on the internet, and storing things that are

EDIT 21 July 2010: New and improved: now with added Mckeith - see bits below in poo brown.
I started editing this but didn't finish it - I wanted to add in a couple of useful things sent to me by chums on Twitter which relate to the sort of clever tips used in the McKeith case (see below).

Here they are, until I put them in order:

Antisocial networking
via @EvidenceMatters

@herring67 suggested using the Bing cache in addition to the Google one.

Finding things that aren't there any more on the internet, and storing things that are 

Page is still there
1. FreezePage -
"Free Web service for freezing Web pages. Save, share and prove what is on the Web at a specific point of time." hat tip to @Zeno001

Page is not there
1. Google cache
You've searched for a website via Google, or typed its address in directly and it's not there - if, on the Google results page - there's the word 'Cache' below the address, click on that and you'll get the 'last known' version that Google crawled and cached before the page went down. Google is not the only search engine that has a cache which can do this. More on the cache from Google's own guide.

2. Google database
If your page of choice has disappeared and isn't cached, or available in the Internet Archive (see point 4) then you could try searching for remembered phrases, in quotation marks, to see if information from the page is stored elsewhere.

3. Who has linked to that page?
This is part of the advanced features of Google, but is pretty straightforward - simply type the word link: before the URL, eg

3b. Dead Url - finding the missing link
This assumes you still have a copy of the URL, if not you could try to try and piece together what it should be.

If you find that someone's linked to it you could ask them if they stored a copy.

4. Wayback Machine from the Internet Archive -
I think this displays websites six months after storing them so, for example, a page stored on 1 Jan will be visible on 1 June but not before (I might be wrong about this).

Type your URL in and off you go. You'll be given a list of years, months and days on which the archive stored copies - basically have a browse around.

Edit: 10 April 2014 - @zeno001 has just told me about this one

4a. Search Engine Showdown
Another list of cached options can be found here

5. Ask for help :)

Sneakery: @gilliamckeith - a case study
The last few days on Twitter (June 2010) didn't go particularly well for Gillian McKeith. In a highly diverting chain of events her official account tweeted some unwise tweets which drew the attention of Twitter. I imagine it as a sort of ring / Sauron type of thing. Google has plenty of blogged accounts, including Jack of Kent's.

Deleting an unwise tweet seems like a sensible move, and it was the one her Official Twitter account took. Unfortunately deleted tweets are not fully deleted for some time - they might not show up in your tweetstream but they are cached on Google (it's doing real-time searching now so once you press 'tweet' it's out there). People favourite tweets (if I favourite a tweet containing a link it's sent to Delicious via, people retweet tweets, they are picked up by other aggregators (topsy, tweetmeme) etc. etc.

Finding deleted tweets:
The least techy method is to search for the tweet on Google and look at the cache. Searching for gillianmckeith twitter soon after the great deletion of 2010 would have brought up many of her tweets and clicking on the cached link underneath any of them would show the tweet. As a few days have passed since the excitements then fewer of the tweets are still accessible.

But one is still viewable at the time I'm writing this - Freezepage (see point 1 above) is very useful in capturing a page while it's still there.

Whenever a tweet says something like
"10:22 AM Jul 8th via web in reply to twittername"
be aware that there are two links there ('10:22 AM Jul 8th' and 'in reply to twittername')

Clicking on the time link in this tweet would take you to a page with just that tweet on it, clicking on the 'reply to' link will take you to a page containing just the original tweet.

Finding deleted links on pages:
Things got rather interesting when the @gillianmckeith Twitter account indicated that it wasn't the real account after all. Most people following had wondered about that the previous day, if not before, and it was already fairly well confirmed. There were many clues - in the official McKeith pages there were several blue icons directing her visitors to "follow me on Twitter" . Hovering over the icon flashes up the in the status bar, an example of her newsletter with the Twitter icon present and linking to that account can be seen here

Thursday, 18 February 2010

#skepticmedia #singhBCA Simon Singh and BCA: audio/visual media roundup

Listening just now to #ScienceOnTrial (not available for Listen Again, for shame - EDIT: it appears that the audio is available over at YouTube in three parts, starting with Part One) I thought that a "page per case" might be in order, with a page listing available audio or video media relating to skeptical matters, pertinently #libelreform but other things too. I was helped in finding a couple of mp3 targets by the cache of this blog (the original blog seems to have gone, but that may be a consquence of WordPress pruning anything today that it finds alarming:
cached version:

This isn't going to be comprehensive, it's just me trawling Google for various permutations of words like "Simon Singh" BCA "listen again" listen mp3 podcast. I am happy for anyone to take the text below and magically turn it into a wiki sort of thing to which the skeptic posse can contribute and we can build up a resource of skeptic media er.. resources. Yes I'm afraid I do get these enthusiasms every now and again...

Bit in orange - now done:

I've not listened to all of these.

Interview with Simon Singh
Little Atoms
early May 2009

Libel, science, and the polypill
BMJ podcast
22 May 09
Includes section in which "Deborah Cohen talks to Simon Singh about the libel action against him, and what it means for science journalism".

Interview with Simon Singh
Skeptic's Guide to the Universe
3 June 2009
(Simon's interview is about halfway through)

Simon Singh: exclusive interview
Nature podcast extra
29 June 2009

Podcast #80 - Simon Singh
American Freethought
8 February 2010

Simon Singh, Libel Reform, Joanne Cash and Twitter Outrage
House of Comments
17 February 2010
Allen Green, who blogs as @JackOfKent, discusses the history and significance of the #singhBCA case as it relates to current libel law in England and Wales.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A lovely time at #DorkbotLondon 66

This evening I hiked over to South Kensington for the latest episode of Dorkbot; usually it's held in Limehouse Town Hall, but tonight it was in a cafe / bar on the second floor of what I think might have been the student union of the Royal College of Arts. You can tell they're an arty bunch because the notices for 'rooms wanted' are that bit more creative than the usual A4 sheet of paper.

The venues hosting the Dorkbots that I've been to have had some intriguing items in them - the ones I've attended at Limehouse Town Hall have had an absolutely massive lamp and the strangest gas heater I've ever seen (I've since discovered they're quite common but evidently I've lived a sheltered life) and tonight I noticed that the lighting rig above us, with those little reflector halogen bulbs in, was using teacups as lampshades. In the bar room next door there were angled wooden pegs on the walls from which were hung wooden stools cunningly fashioned with a hole in the middle for this purpose.

We started off with a lovely presentation from Ansuman Biswas who is a one-man Radiolab show. He started a metronome on his phone, got us to clap every eighth beat, close our eyes and keep counting. Then he switched off the metronome and asked us to keep counting and clapping - interestingly the majority of us kept to more or less the same time, but we ended up with people clapping on every beat. He began the show by drawing parallels between a film of an embryo chick heart beating and an audio recording of the 1966 World Cup crowd cheering (a pulse / shared actions / shared electrical fields (I'm convinced in the case of the heart, less so with a football crowd but this didn't worry me). There was a surprising amount of electrophysiology in his presentation, with slides of ECGs and of heart rate variability. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Then we had Alex Zivanovic who showed us about the making of a robotic arm device that could generate a unique movement response to the number tag in an RFID card (such as one that might be used in travelling around London, touching in and touching out). This, I believe, originated as part of the 'Takeaway' festival held at the Dana centre and expanded into an installation at the Science Museum. The idea was that visitors would 'bip' their plastic travelcard onto a device (Arduinos featured here I think) and the robotic arm (which also had a cool blue light at its head) would pick up the number and describe a shape in the air based on the numbers it contained (imagine a 16 point clock dial on a circle in the space around the arm, and the robotic arm points to a series of numbers in the order dictated by the RFID tag). I shall be tinkering with an Arduino in a couple of weeks at an MzTEK event so I found this rather fascinating - although I think we'll probably stop short of building actual robots.

We learned a lot about the challenges in creation and implementation - and quite a bit about what people respond to in an interactive setting. I wonder if Alex is part of the British Interactive Group (BIG).

The third presentation was from architect Artemis Papageorgiou who told us about her Fabrique project which derives from follies found in gardens that fool visitors. She gave us examples of grottos that temporarily trap visitors by sending up a spray of water from recessed fountains (you get out after a bit) and various other garden puzzles. Her installation used the set up of a grid with a 'plant pot' on it, each pot containing an Arduino which, when activated by an RFID tag in a 'watering can' transmitted a signal to moving cogs above. Suspended from these cogs were bicycle-chain-like ropes which adjusted themselves according to the order in which they were activated and it was possible to get them all moving.

This was installed at an event in Athens and Artemis showed us a video of the set-up of the piece (very amusing) and then footage of people playing around with it. She also showed us some lovely photos of very neat breadboards with very colourful wires, and the chaos that was her room before the exhibition.

I didn't stay for the last presentation or the 'open dorks' (short presentations) as it's a bit of a trek to get back home from South Kensington.

Anyway, as always, a charming and rather magical evening - well worth visiting (they're not restricted to London and seem to be all over the place) if you get the chance.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Curated posts: liveblogging science conferences - my thoughts on tweeting medical research charity conferences

This post is now being updated at its new home: 
A collection of posts about livetweeting / liveblogging science and other conferences 
(1 September 2014) 

The old post was published on 16 February 2012 and updated periodically with the last update on this page on 19 January 2014. I thought it was time to reboot it :)

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Nine point guide for #charities new to Twitter #charity #nfp

EDIT: When I first posted this I found that several accounts using Twitterfeed scraped the tweet content and added a url or worse, an 'url4eu'. Please report any such spammers to Twitter, thanks Jo.

The shortened URL I'm using for this post is

I wrote this a year (or two?) ago for colleagues in a charity who were new to Twitter - I realise that as time has marched along these recommendations will be less 'cutting edge' useful, but they might still be helpful to some, hence I've posted ( an amended version of) them here.

1. It's been suggested that charities might want to reserve for themselves the relevant name of their charity on Twitter and on other social media (eg getting a fan page on Facebook). Seems like a good idea – I'd recommend using as few letters as possible for the Twitter channel, while still being understandable, as this will allow you more of the remaining characters in the 140-char tweets.

Also - add a "follow us on Twitter" to your website as people will visit your site and that might be the first they hear about your twitter feed; it also clarifies that it's your official twitter feed.

2. A hashtag (# before a keyword) adds a bit of focus to a word, and people can set up searches to follow instances of said word. For example I use #diabetes* if I write about something that I specifically want to be seen by people interested in that topic.

* people following the word 'diabetes' will see it whether or not I put the # symbol in front of it – the advantage of the # is for aggregator services that can collect and store all instances of a hashtag (this is useful in the setting of a conference where everyone uses the same hashtag and all the tweets can be collected). It's also useful for anyone using Tweetdeck which lets you click on the hashtag and create a column to follow it.

Probably hashtags will eventually become redundant but I've erred on the side of using them rather than not using them.

3. Find like-minded people using and follow them. Like-minded might include people who have the particular medical condition your charity is funding research in, but will also include doctors and nurses (whether or not they are specifically talking about your condition) as these people are likely to want to know about your publications for example. Seek out people from your many audiences to follow and interact with.

4. Google #nfptweetup - it means not for profit meet-up of people in the third sector using Twitter. There are meetings every now and again where people share "best practice" and ideas.

5. Ask your colleagues to append something like
"Follow Charity UK 's news feed on Twitter at
to the end of their email messages because this information will then be being sent to a wide range of people.

6. It's OK (particularly initially) to post in a 'broadcast' mode – ie just saying things about who your charity is and where people can find information. You might also use one of the systems that will post an automated tweet for you whenever a new story is added to your website. After a while though, it's more helpful to be a bit interactive and engage with people, answering questions, posing questions etc.

There's no harm in writing "please RT" for "please retweet" at the end of occasional tweets and then people can do a little bit of promotion for you. People following me are interested in things relating to diabetes, librarianship and science communication so I'd be likely to RT the things people post about those, as it would be of interest to them.

7. Don't forget it takes time to build up a presence, and to 'get' what Twitter is all about. You can use it to highlight news and include a signposting link where people can read more, to conduct a conversation, to get feedback, to drum up support for a campaign etc.

If you have a presence on other social sites (like Facebook) mention your twitter feed there (ie 'cross fertilise!).

8. It's possible that a number of people in your potential readership have not come across Twitter yet so maybe a short page on your website highlighting how to get a Twitter account and follow your feed isn't a bad idea. You don't really need to write anything complicated and can probably get most of it from Twitter's help pages.

9. You can also sign up to a monitoring service, like Google Alerts or SocialOomph (formerly Tweetlater) which will send you periodic emails containing tweets that reference the keyword(s) you're interested in.

Related posts

Monday, 1 February 2010

Atul Gawande, the James Reason annual lecture, surgical checklists and patient safety

The Checklist Manifesto: Britain’s adoption of a Safer Surgery Checklist one year on
Guest lecturer: Dr Atul Gawande

Last week I went to hear a few people talk about patient safety, in reference to the newly mandated surgical checklist - the keynote speaker was Atul Gawande who I first heard of in July last year when I heard a rebroadcast of his interview, by Steve Mirsky for the Scientific American podcast, Science Talk, speaking about his (then) most recent book "Better".

This was the order of play

17.45: Arrivals and refreshments
18.30: Welcome address: Lord Patel, Chairman, National Patient Safety Agency
18.35: Address: Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England, Department of Health
18.45: Perspectives from the UK: Dr Suzette Woodward, Dr Sukhmeet Panesar, National Patient Safety Agency
18.55: Guest lecture: Dr Atul Gawande
19.45: Response: Mr John Black, President, Royal College of Surgeons
19.55: Q and A: Dr Suzette Woodward
20.15: Vote of thanks and close: Professor James Reason

Lord Naren Patel is the Chair of the National Patient Safety Association (NPSA) among many other things (he also chaired a debate in the House of Lords in 2007 on stem cell therapy which is worth a read).

Liam Donaldson mentioned a document he wrote in 2000 called "The organisation with a memory". It's about systems failures in healthcare (rather than just blaming the nearest person who may have made a mistake) and draws an analogy with the airline industry which has adopted a different cultural approach to dealing with error.

Next Dr Suzette Woodward talked about the work being done with - they do a lot of interesting engagement work with doctors and patients. Dr Sukhmeet Panesar spoke about his work with 'Project SAVED' in encouraging people to get involved with the surgical checklist and how gradual cultural changes might happen with engagement.

I made quite a few notes during Atul's talk - they might not all make sense... my notes are a few days old, scrawled in pencil in my notebook and disjointed because sometimes I'll just sit and listen without writing. Don't rely on this as an accurate representation of the event :)


Atul Gawande (AG) paid tribute to James Reason (who was sitting in the first row with his family) and mentioned that he'd read his work and had subsequently met him / become friends. He highlighted his work with WHO in making patient safety a priority.

'Complexity is the reason healthcare is failing' - failures may be to do with ignorance or ineptitude (otherwise known as 'difficulties with execution' which got a laugh from the audience). Ineptitude arises where the knowledge about how to do something exists but is misapplied (the field of human factors research categorises several ways in which errors can be considered) .

AG said that we had been fooled by penicillin, which had led to the belief that the treatment of diseases was straightforward and that research followed a neat path of exploration and then execution of the results.

He gave a very nice example of systems versus individual components - medicine likes the best components (the newest machine that goes 'bing' for example) but it forgets the system, and optimising parts is not a good route to system excellence. A car with a Ferrari engine and a Volvo body isn't a great car, but a bit of a mess.

Boeing instituted a two minute, 19 item checklist for their airline folk, at which point I randomly added in my notes that it's not just about having a checklist but about the types of questions that are asked. Not quite sure why, it being that obvious ;)

The surgical safety checklist is a staged checklist (I think it has 'deliberate pauses' added in to make people think about something, I've not seen one up close but this makes me think of 'rests' as used in musical notation) so there is a column of things to think abou before induction of anaesthesia, before skin incision and before the patient leaves the operating room.

If your spleen is removed this makes you at risk for three bacterial infections and certain vaccines are required. AG mentioned one man who, for whatever reason, didn't get the necessary vaccine(s) as each member of the team thought another was dealing with this (I think this must have come out in an enquiry) and he ultimately lost his fingers and toes following a pneumococcal infection which he couldn't shake off (as I suppose one normally would if all was well with the immune system).

Then we had questions and answers from the audience, including from Paul Somerfield /Summerfield from the RSM who asked about adherence to protocol and teamwork, Geraint Lewis from Nuffield and James whose last name I didn't catch from UCL Partners asking if patients should be asking their surgeons 'are you using the checklist?'

The importance of teamwork and adherence to protocol was illustrated by the landing of the aircraft on the Hudson river. The pilot and copilot hadn't flown with one another before but during the pre-flight checks they would have introduced themselves and gone through a set of required checks and brief discussions. AG mentioned that they were also both very experienced, flying for a couple of decades without an engine going out on them, and they'd probably expect to retire without experiencing it. However they still followed protocol and ran through their checks. Apparently the transcript of the flight landing is notable for its 'quietness' - there's not much discussion beyond confirming a few things and no panicking because they knew what to do, however the captain had about three minutes to decide where to park the aircraft.

Patients asking
Some, though not all, patients may feel empowered to ask doctors or nurses to wash their hands, particularly if signs are displayed encouraging them to do so. There's been some success in pneumonia treatment by involving the patients' families - it's important for the top of the bed to be raised to help clear fluids but sometimes this step might be forgotten. Asking the family to watch out and ensure that the bed is up involves them in caring for the patient.

AG said that one US state had proposed that it would be illegal to do surgery without the checklist (forget which one but I think it might have been Massachusetts) but he felt it was more important to get the support of early adopters to increase the value of the checklist.

Someone else spoke at this point and I'm afraid I didn't write his name down (I'm pretty sure it wasn't James Reason, as listed, but I might be wrong).

This speaker mentioned debriefing as an important factor as well as the checklist briefing and gave the example of construction work which can involve 60 agencies supplying 500 staff who don't all know what their colleagues are up to. Buildings rarely fall down and the success of the end product is perhaps down to the processes that the people in charge of the project use - briefing and debriefing and then letting people get on with it (once they've signed off on a piece of work). The checklist is part of a process.

He also made the point that the checklist is good for surgeons too - if someone has inadvertently taken out the wrong kidney they're 'not the same again'. Finally he mentioned that even pilots can get it wrong - a flight had to land too early because the pilot calculated the fuel needed in kilograms but signed for it in pounds.


I recently started working on a project at UCL which looks at a range of factors, including human factors, involved in errors when using interactive medical devices - so this talk was particularly helpful. I've also been reading James Reason's paper 'Safety in the operating theatre - Part 2: human error and organisational failure' (abstract).

Anyway hope the above makes sense.

Follow-up thoughts (30 June 2011): I wrote this in February 2010 when I'd literally just joined the new CHI+MED project, working two days a week as the Public Engagement Co-ordinator. I'd probably had fewer than five days in the office because the snow was particularly grim in January, but I'd just about picked up that James Reason's work was extremely important. As mentioned in the piece I'd heard of Atul Gawande through a science podcast but I don't think it had even occurred to me to invite my new colleagues.

Moving from a biochemistry / neuroscience and latterly endocrinology background (well, I still do this) to the world of human factors was a bit of a steep learning curve - I'm still learning of course. But having re-read this blog post, I do think I've got a better and more cohesive understanding of the talk that I probably didn't have at the time - just because I've read a bit more of some of the background papers.

The research that CHI+MED is doing is looking at finding ways of making interactive medical devices (such as chemotherapy infusion pumps) safer. It's a large multidisciplinary project (four universities and two hospitals) blending knowledge and skills from psychology, computer science and maths to learn about how errors are made, and how they can be prevented or mitigated by being 'designed out'. We're funded for six years by the EPSRC (£5.7m).

Everyone on the project is working with different groups of people (stakeholder engagement) - this is because in order to transform the way in which medical devices are designed, regulated, purchased and used we need to be working with, and understand the needs of, the people who are doing the designing and the using and everything in between. So the engagement informs our work, but we also want to tell people about us and our work too of course.