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

Friday, 31 August 2012

.@mgtmccartney suggested I write to my MP to ask him to attend @tomgreatrexmp's Atos debate - I've done so

A couple of days ago I asked on Twitter what I might do to annoy Atos as I have been concerned by reports of their activities.

I Storified / blogged the suggestions that came in. One of them, from Margaret McCartney, was to write to my MP (Nick Raynsford) and ask him to attend Tom Greatrex's debate which is happening next week - this I've now done, using the fab system. Text below.
Dear Nick Raynsford,

I'm writing to ask that you attend the "Atos Healthcare and the work capability assessment" debate organised by MP Tom Greatrex which is taking place in the Commons' Westminster Hall from 11am until 12.30pm on Tuesday 4th September.

Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly concerned to learn that 1/3 of Atos' assessments have had to be overturned and am forming the impression that they are not able to perform these assessments correctly. Their actions appear (admittedly from newspaper reports and anecdotes, where can one get good data?) to be doing more to harm than help people with disabilities and I am frankly amazed that they are sponsoring the Paralympics.

My friend Margaret McCartney (a Glasgow GP who has written in the BMJ and Financial Times) has a blog and I agree entirely with her thoughts in this particular post ( which I've reproduced below (with her permission).*

The Paralympics and Atos
Posted on August 29, 2012 by margaretmccartney

Yours sincerely

*I included it in the email but have removed it here because everyone can click easily on it and read it on her blog.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

I find Atos's attitude to disability a bit disturbing

The Storify of the tweets - published (duplicated) here because I think more people will see it on Google Blogger. It might take a wee while to load.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Car adverts - they're usually pretty good on the music front

I can't actually drive (had a few lessons, not for me) but if I could I'm not sure how much help car adverts would be in making a decision about which one to buy. They pretty much never include any information that's of use, beyond the price, and rely on tapping into our emotions as we imagine ourselves hurtling down some dramatic road as opposed to stuck behind someone on a dual carriageway.

This means they tend to look and sound fairly cinematic / dramatic and often use really good music. That's all they seem to have in their favour as far as I'm concerned. Here are some ones that I've really enjoyed.

Peugeot 208 - Let your body drive.

I am officially in love with Tom Bennett who plays both roles (unless he also has a twin brother) in this. 

Range Rover - Born Free

Audi RS6 Quattro - Bull

BMW "It's only a car" - Philip Glass' Pruitt Igoe from Koyaanisqatsi

U.N.K.L.E. rejig Beethoven's 9th symphony

Volkswagen Night Drive Golf - with Richard Burton reading from Under Milkwood

Lexus 220d - water droplets

Lexus 250 Diesel - reminds me of Jean-Michel Jarre

This is what a Honda feels like - in which a choir does all the sound effects

Honda (Hate something, change something)

Volkswagen Polo - nice use of a bit of the Fauré requiem

Moving Twitter widgets around on the page - how can I get this to sit on the right?

I have fairly basic html / php coding skills and it may well be the case that I really need to get better at CSS in order to achieve what I'd like to with this particular challenge.

On our website we have a Twitter widget that self-updates with our tweets. You can just make it out lurking at the bottom of this page (Fig 1) but I'd quite like it to sit neatly on the right hand side of the page (Fig 2), which was achieved by taking a screenshot of the page and manipulating it in Paint.

The best I have in my coding armoury is stuff like 'float right' and that sort of thing, which doesn't appear to work particularly well.

Does anyone have any suggestions for a simple fix or do I just need to better educate myself in matters of page layout?

Fig 1

Fig 2

Minipost for Jude @theunitlist "what Storify type tool can handle tweets older than 1 week please?"

This post is about freely available tools - there may well be paid-for tools that will do this job even better, please feel free to share in comments. Epilogger is a free tool which I've not yet had cause to use but it might be worth investigating for this - I think it can do more than other tools.

There are two things to think about here. The first is finding old tweets, the second is capturing them. These are separate but related.

Storify (and Chirpstory which is a similar tool) can often find tweets that are more than a week old although this will also depend on the number of related tweets. If a popular event has had thousands of hashtagged tweets then these tools will only be able to find tweets from one or two days back. is a great free tool that can find tweets going back much further in time, however it doesn't let you find them in a nicely ordered way - it's a bit random.

If you know who was participating in a conversation you can scroll through their individual timelines to collect tweets (remember each tweet has its own web page / address / URL that can be added to a Storify story). You can also collect tweets from people's favourites, you might find them embedded in other Storify stories or on people's blogs.

Normally, when an event is happening the 'finding and capturing'is more or less the same - you can type in your hashtag and a whole bunch of tweets appear in the results window which you can then add to your story.

You can use all sorts of tools to do different versions of this: Twilert will send you emailed alerts of the results of a Twitter search, GrabChat and SearchHash will pretty much automate the finding and capturing of a bunch of tweets (they do need a little bit of babysitting, in terms of collecting the older tweets before they disappear) and there are a whole load of other free / paid-for tools available.

It helps to be aware that Twitter has changed quite dramatically since 2011 to the point that it seems to be (deliberately) that much harder to find older tweets (we used to have Google Realtime which made things very straightforward for scrolling back 18 months or so).

If you can find the URL of a tweet - on look for the 'details' link which appears when you click on a tweet to expand it, on other services look for the twitter bird icon - the URL's probably hidden within it (basically hover over anything until something twitter URLish appears eg then you can add it manually to Storify using the link option. That's the little grey button with a small linked chain on it, to the right of the other buttons in the picture here.

Basically after one week you can find tweets with one tool and capture them with another, but the closer you are to when the tweets were posted the easier it is to use one tool for everything.

Further reading - all cited in the post above though.

Monday, 30 May 2011
A list of tools for finding or capturing tweets - this is a long, detailed post looking at a range of tools (some no longer available but I have been a bit 'completist' about the whole thing) for finding, trapping, displaying (eg on a screen behind a speaker, or in a foyer at an event).

Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Storify has added an 'add all tweets' button - hooray - a very short post with a picture to show where to find this useful (to me) newly added improvement.

Thursday, 19 July 2012
Using free tools to capture a handful of tweets or a larger bunch - medium-length post highlighting some of my favourite tools and how I use them. I've not added Epilogger yet but it should really go here I think.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Some problems I am having with Survey Monkey in which deleting cookies doesn't seem to help

Edit: a few minutes later ;)
A cleverer colleague pointed out that the problem could be stemmed at source by adding an exception block for all cookies from SurveyMonkey. This works beautifully.

To do this in Firefox go to Tools » Options and click on the Privacy tab. Where it asks if you want Firefox to remember your history choose 'use custom settings for history' then make sure the 'accept cookies' bit is ticked (if you want to accept cookies from other sites) but click on 'Exceptions' and add in the root web address of the one(s) you want to block, in my case, then click the Block button and OK your way out of the menu and you're done.

I am transcribing hundreds of paper surveys into a SurveyMonkey survey. Once the survey is finished the system assumes you're done and doesn't let you refresh the survey to add in the details of another sheet. The way around this is to delete cookies then refresh and this resets things nicely.

However it isn't doing so today and no amount of cookie deletion, entire history deletion, private browsing, or refreshing the page with F5 will help. That's with Firefox.

I've tried creating a SurveyMonkey account and logging in and that doesn't work either.

I'm now on to MSIE (internet explorer) which involves a longer process to delete cookies, but it is currently working and I'm able to add in each new survey. I don't know if that will suddenly start working but I've also got Chrome and Safari on my desktop and I don't mind downloading more browsers, although there comes a point when it does all get rather silly.

Surely I can't be the only person who needs to transcribe paper surveys and has come up against this problem? While I might wish the surveyees had been given the link to fill in the survey themselves there are good practical reasons why paper should be used and so that's not going to change.

Is there a setting I can switch on that lets me solve this without having to go under the bonnet after adding in each new survey?


Nuratrim on the naughty step for failing to provide evidence for their weight loss supplements

Nuropharm Limited, trading as Nuratrim ( have been asked repeatedly by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to remove from their website " that Nutratrim is scientifically proven to assist weight loss, burn fat, reduce cholesterol, increase metabolism and reduce appetite."

They didn't do this so the ASA has added the company to its list of non-compliant online advertisers on 27 July 2012 and I happened to notice it today. 

Although I've never reported to the ASA either the parent company or any of the affiliates that sell this product I've written a couple of blog posts on the Nuratrim weight loss supplement pills already, one of which yielded this rather snide comment but if you swap 'try eating less cake' for 'stop eating into my profit margins' I think that might clarify things somewhat ;) 

Further reading
This is a long blog post, added to over several months as new information became available - it's rather detailed.

Nuropharm Ltd appear to be the makers of the product but according to the Nuratrim website Advanced Health provide or support the online payment system. As do Newstel - I'm a bit confused.

Slendex claims revision (August 2012) 
Affiliate marketers have been contacted by the ASA and asked to amend their claims for this product, so no idea why the parent company of a different product (sold by the same affiliates) can't manage it.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Because you haven’t opened an email in more than a year, your e-mail alerts have been cancelled

This isn't a post being snarky about - it's just that they happened to send me this in December last year and it made me giggle and then wonder about people knowing what emails I have or haven't opened. I was reminded of it today and thought I'd dig it out.

I've done a bit of a series of blogposts recently ('fun with paranoia') on some of the various ways in which your data is shared, or links that you share may carry extra information about you. My favourite example is the one in which I searched for volunteering options local to me by putting in my postcode. The address for any page I looked at after that 'inherited' my postcode and I only noticed when I copied the link of an opportunity to share on Twitter.

When you click on a link in an e-lert type of email the webpage collects some information - it probably could work out who you are although I don't think anyone's particularly interested in that. I suspect the body of data is more useful for telling you how many people clicked on something.

Normally I'd never share this great long link

This came from an e-lert from the BFI and is a rather fascinating page on the stats of film in the UK and the changing face of how we view films in Britain etc (also there is such a thing as the "BFI’s Research and Statistics Unit", I had no idea). Everything after '2011' is data about how I (although I can't tell if it's specifically 'I' or just generic to 'all who receive this email') reached the page. E-lerts report back to their owners the percentage of email recipients clicking on different sections. There's nothing sinister in any of this, I just find it all quite interesting.

The link I'd share would be the pruned version, much tidier.

Back to Nature though - it's true I didn't open their emails but I'm not certain that unsubscribing me is the best strategy (assuming it's not just a random spam email of course, it looks legit). Perhaps I check my emails on the way to work, clock that Nature have sent me something and then visit their page when I get to my work computer without using any of the links in the email... perhaps now that I no longer receive these notifications I no longer think to do this ;)