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

Monday, 29 October 2012

What's a good way to 'bookmark' blogs, Google reader? Blog roll?

Asking for a friend :)

I have a blog roll on my blog - it's a pretty random affair where I've clicked on things I want to watch later, several of which have since stopped updating. Generally I'm following people on Twitter who sensibly pimp their posts several times so I rarely miss too much, and don't feel that I'm behind with my blogpost reading.

But my friend is new to the ways of bookmarking blogs and because I've only used blogrolls or Google reader (RSS feeds) I don't really know of other methods and wondered what everyone else recommends?

She's not too keen on just bookmarking them because that doesn't flag "hey there's a new post on THIS blog" to you, so that's no good. So what are you doing to get updates on your favourite blogs?

Thanks :)

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Medical research charities that have a science blog (as opposed to a general blog)

Well, it's a small list so far... but I hope to add to it :)

1. Medical research charities with science blogs

2. Inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Medical research or patient charity that funds research - yes
  • Member of the AMRC - doesn't have to be but that's the sort of thing I'm looking for
  • Has a science blog - yes
  • Has a general blog which occasionally mentions science - No, but beggars can't be choosers
  • Based in the UK - no, but let's keep it English-speaking for my list.

3. Other interesting additions that don't quite fit the inclusion criteria (see above)

Monday, 22 October 2012

Linguistic not-quite-jargon - searching for a word to describe this

Edit: 1 May 2014
Just spotted this rather good tweeted picture showing 'what scientists say' versus 'what the public hears' which I think makes the point that fairly dull, ordinary-looking words can mean different things in different contexts (but still sufficiently similar to cause more confusion perhaps than if the meanings of the words were vastly different?)




Original post

If you don't know what phosphatidylethanolamine is you might at least reasonably guess that it's a bit of scientific jargon. It flags itself up to you as something to pay attention to because it's not an everyday word - hopefully whatever you're reading that contains it would explain what it means (it's a membrane lipid - it's a component of the double-layer protective flexible shell that covers every single living cell).

But what about words and phrases like 'theory' or 'protein' or 'model' all of which have a certain meaning in a scientific context but another meaning in everyday language ('hunch', 'dietary nutrient', 'small boat/train or clothes-selling person'). These don't particularly flag themselves up as 'words to be aware of'.

They're not jargon, they are everyday words but they're not being used in an everyday sense - what word describes this class of words that have this dual purpose? I thought about 'Janus words' but that term's already in use to describe words like 'sanction', or 'cleave', which mean both one thing and its exact opposite http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/sanction-cleave.aspx

I can't have been the only person to come up against this so am assuming that the universe has already given this class of words and phrases a name - what is it?

Thanks!

Later that same day...
@alex_brovvn has suggested 'false friends', @sciencebase suggested 'dualisms' and @inspiringsci came up with 'sensu stricto' and 'sensu lato'. I think the winner though, also suggested by @inspiringsci, might be 'polyseme'.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Acting on Evidence: How Medical Research has informed Historical Drama - free talk at Gresham College

Acting on Evidence: How Medical Research has informed Historical Drama
Gresham College: talk from Prof John Powell, medical advisor
18 October 2012, 1pm.


Some dramatic music to listen to while reading - it's Alexandre Desplat's opening theme to the film Painted Veil which is suitable medical-themed (it features cholera). Press play.

Yesterday's free lunch time talk at Gresham College coincided both with my interests and my day off, which was handy.

Prof John Powell is a medical advisor who's worked on several television programmes and the ones he highlighted in his talk were Downton Abbey, Spanish Flu - the Forgotten Fallen and Casualty 1909. It was interesting stuff with some stills and clips, some of them pretty gruesome - prosthetics teams are a bit too good at gore these days.

As my spatial awareness and sense of direction is catastrophically dreadful I managed to miss the first five minutes of scene setting so I don't know how John got into the medical advising business (there's no career structure involved). I turned up as he was talking about a series he was involved in at the earliest stages (it might have been about anaesthetist / epidemiologist John Snow of cholera / water pump handle fame) which never came to fruition but which gave him contacts and an 'in' for the next time a medical advisor was needed.

He had a slide showing the various stages which a commissioned programme or series would go through, starting with an idea, a treatment (which is about ten pages long and gives an overview of story arcs and which characters are involved), draft script, shooting script, production (ie filming / shooting) and then post-production.

Depending on the programme the medical advisor may be brought in at the earliest stages of script writing and story development. For example to help in the thinking about what diseases people would get in the 1900s and what words did doctors use to describe them then (hence 'toxaemia' for pre-eclampsia in Downton Abbey in 1920).

Downton Abbey      **Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**
I have written this bit in white text on a white background for those who want to skip it, but if you want to read it you'll need to select the white space below to see the text. This probably won't work on mobiles so just scroll down past the next steel blue Spoiler Alert marker.

In the recent Downton storyline Lady Sybil gives birth to a healthy baby girl but dies from the effects of pre-eclampsia. At one point she suffers a fit and John was on set to make sure that the fitting (nicely acted, and I suppose icted (1), by the actress playing her, Jessica Findlay Brown) looked convincing on the cameras. As she's a bonny lass it was apparently rather hard work to make her look ill.

The storyline dramatised the tension between the fancy London doctor and the local family doctor (who was convinced that sonething was VERY WRONG but was overridden). Oops.


**Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**    

John acknowledged that you really can't be 100% accurate in every aspect. For example the time course of a disease or its relief from medication tends to be compressed. A questioner at the end also pointed out that in modern real life there would be delays in even seeing a dictor, what with things as they are in the NHS. Also, a typical 1900s doctor wouldn't necessarily see such a wide range of ailments and any one patient might not experience multiple diseases in a short time frame. He also pointed out that the real life practice of medicine is plenty dramatic itself, with different characters and unpredictable outcomes.

medicine bottles
Could anything look more 'medicine of yore'? This is 'medicine bottles' from Flickr user Leo Reynolds

In an example from earlier in the Downton series he talked about his research of the early medical literature so that they could create a scene in which a young healthy man (early 40s) has a plausible heart problem - something likely to be fatal but which some new technique could solve. They gave him pericarditis which had arisen from rheumatic fever. This introduced tension between the local family doctor, Dr Clarkson, and Mrs Crawley who is a nurse and widow of a paediatric specialist - she has more knowledge of this newer procedure but is of lower professional status. She encourages the wife of the afflicted man (Mr Drake) to give permission for fluid to be withdrawn from his pericardium and for adrenaline to be given if the heart needs restarting. Fortunately there's a happy ending.

The source material was Steell G (1900) A clinical lecture on pericarditis Br Med J. January 27; 1(2039): 181–183.

He showed us a page from the shooting script which contained a reference to cardiac tamponade which isn't actually in the final version. Even when you get to the stage of shooting with 'signed-off' dialogue an actor might not say a particular line or phrase if the director decides that it isn't needed.

There's a company that hires out old medical equipment and you might have to adapt to working with what's available. In the scene where the doctor removes fluid he's using a double-valve syringe which lets you pull fluid out of one place and then, by switching the valve, push it somewhere else.

.o0o.  .o0o.  .o0o.  .o0o.  .o0o.  .o0o.  .o0o.

John pointed out that Downton isn't a show about medicine of course, that's just incidental to the main story.

Spanish Flu - the Forgotten Fallen is about medicine though, and was broadcast in 2009, coincidentally around the time that there was an H1N1 flu epidemic. The BBC apparently has a drama compliance unit (!) who made sure that the series was non-alarmist at a time when temperatures were running high, so to speak.

John said he found himself along with someone else from the production (I think it may have been the writer) on breakfast television being asked about his role in the programme, but also about flu more generally. At this point he said he that luckily, as he was a public health doctor, flu was one thing he was pretty qualified to talk about.

The series dramatised tales of the Spanish flu in Manchester from Dr James Niven's private papers. He warned about the seriousness of the flu tried to shut down all sorts of events in Manchester, and that wasn't warmly received, until a vaccine became available.

We saw some scenes from it and I wondered how on earth I could have missed it when it broadcast - I recognised lots of people in it and it seems like quite an interesting story.

Hall in Gresham College 2012-10-18 14.02.35
Picture credit: Me actually, aka Jodiepedia


Casualty 1909 belonged to a small series (I think there was a Casualty 1904 and a couple of others too) of hospital dramas which arose because the series' producer's great grandparent had been an anaesthetist at The London Hospital, where this was set.

Again, this looked fantastic and also a bit gruesome. In the clip we saw someone had set off a bomb in the east end of London and this gave the prosthetics team lots of opportunities to give people horrific injuries. Plenty of surgery was needed and the story unfolded about the development and use of anaesthesia and the way in which some doctors behaved (somewhat imperiously) towards their patients and juniors.

In one storyline there was a fictionalised medical error in which a patient has received too much spinal anaesthesia and remained 'under' for too long. The result seems to be some blotchy red problems with the patients' legs which didn't bode well for him. The anaesthetic used was the tropane alkaloid Stovaine and one of the fictional doctors turns out to be using it as a drug of abuse and as the series progresses he's shown being less able to do his surgical work.

There was also 'A case of a fractured pelvis complicated by laceration of the femoral vein treated by lateral vein suture' which was shown in a bit more detail than I'd ever want. It seems to have been rather good fun for John to do the background research and find some fairly odd examples of accidents and injuries. There was a paper he flashed up briefly which looked great, about a lion bite (I didn't get a good look at all the words but I think a circus lionkeeper had his trochanter 'craunched', which is a great word for bite - I'd only ever heard the word used once before in 'to craunch the marmoset' and had always wondered what it means, so now I know). Turns out you can read the article here, look out for 'lion bite' on the second or third page.

True story - one of the doctors experimented with having his own radial nerve severed to see what happened when it all healed up. I'm afraid I don't know because I was squeamishing at the accurately portrayed images of the surgery taking place, thanks to the work of the prosthetic people and the actors. Fortunately I hadn't had lunch yets, there was a nice Pret a Manger though on the way to the ferry home to Greenwich.

Thanks to Prof John Powell and the Gresham for putting this talk on, and to Prof Harold Thimbleby who told me about it.

(1) Not my wittiest of puns but 'ictal' refers to fits and strokes etc, so I had to do it ;)
If you can't see what this refers to it's the bit in the spoiler alerts above.

Film night at the Royal Society of Chemistry: Lorenzo's Oil

While on the coach home from Winchester to London (mini two day conference for the CHI+MED project I'm working on) I spotted an email sent to the psci-com mailing list about an event at the Royal Society of Chemistry. They were to be showing the film Lorenzo's Oil that same night along with a talk from Keith Layden of Croda (the company that employed Don Suddaby(1) who synthesised a component of the oil used in treating Lorenzo) and Cristina Odone who is(2) Lorenzo's half-sister.

I've always had a soft spot for the film and have seen it a few times. I spent most of the 1990s as a lipid biochemist purifying diacylglycerols (diglycerides) so it was nice to come across a film in which lipids had a rather heroic role regardless of the accuracy of the science or feasibility of the oil as a treatment.

The holy oils of cooking
"The holy oils of cooking" by Flickr user churl - interestingly it was reading the description churl added to their photo while writing this post that made me realise the Catholic relevance (strongly felt in the film) of 'oil', as churl says "If you're Catholic, you know that there are three oils: oil for baptism, holy chrism, and oil for the annointing of the sick. However, in the kitchen, my 3 oils are extra virgin olive oil, sesame seed oil, and canola oil." - Canola oil (Canola means "Canada oil, low acid" and is from the same plant from which you get one of the key ingedients of Lorenzo's Oil.

Hearing the back story to a film is always a treat and this year I've had the pleasure of hearing from Harry Gregson-Williams, Terry George, Brendan Fraser, Nick Emerson, Philip Ridley and Nick Bicat talking about films they've been involved in and most recently Boris Karloff's biographer, and Boris' daughter, talking about his career in films. I've also enjoyed 'Micro and Macro' which showed a series of scientific films from the 1900s to the present day with explanatory talks about the science and the history of each film. A couple of years ago I went to see The Dish which had a side-order (see what I did there) of explanation from a physicist about matters relating to the film (landing on the Moon, satellite dishes and communications) ... so this was exactly my sort of event.

It was nice to hear Keith Layden give a brief overview of lipid chemistry, a lecture I've given myself umpteen times. I think the audience was largely made up of members of the RSC, I got the impression it was quite a sciencey bunch - the lecture was very good and very interesting but a non-specialist audience might have found some aspects of it a bit technical. Not everyone would have an intuitive understanding of an ester linkage for example, but I suspect that the main point - that there are different types of fats based on the length of a chain of carbon atoms, and the way they're linked together - was pretty clear to everyone there.

He also explained the genetics behind the condition. Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) causes an error in the way a particular enzyme works, and this error is inherited. The enzyme is meant to be handling very long chain fatty acids (VLCFAs) but because it doesn't work properly these VLCFAs build up in the tissues causing damage, particularly to the coating (myelin) of nerves. This results in the nerves being unable to conduct signals correctly and leads to weakness in muscles and paralysis, including difficulty in swallowing, and loss of vision and hearing. It progresses pretty relentlessly and, at the time of Lorenzo's diagnosis, had a timecourse of a couple of years before death.

Lorenzo's parents taught themselves about the biochemistry of the disease and Augusto (Lorenzo's father) contributed to the understanding of the faulty enzyme. At the time of L's diagnosis there was a trial in which one source of the body's VLCFAs were restricted - by eliminating them from the diet. This wasn't successful because the body's own production of these VLCFAs (mutinously assisted by the erroneous enzyme) carries on regardless and makes even more if enough aren't coming in through the diet. They needed a plan B.

They suggested that the enzyme could be distracted from producing the VLCFAs by giving it a longish fatty acid to play with and developed a mixture of triglycerides with oleic acid (18:1 - see appendix below) and erucic acid (22:1) as the fatty acids attached to the glycerol backbone. According to the film this lowered Lorenzo's VLCFAs to near normal however this translated into only modest improvements in his functioning. From what I can gather the oil probably makes more of a difference in people who've not yet developed the symptoms of ALD (ie they are asymptomatic). In boys who already have signs of the condition I don't think the oil makes a huge amount of difference - the Wikipedia page for Lorenzo's Oil has some links to info on the various clinical trials.

Rapeseed Viewed from Ashley Hill in UK
A field of rapeseed from which erucic acid can be extracted (although the strain in this picture is actually low-erucic variety). Picture credit: from Flickr user Charles & Clint "Rapeseed Viewed from Ashley Hill in UK"

Keith and Cristina both made the point that Augusto Odone found himself in the position of coming up against the 'medical establishment' to some degree. Plenty of people didn't take his ideas seriously, which certainly makes for a good story.

Cristina also pointed out the various groups that weren't fully supportive of the strategies involved in developing a treatment. Although not stressed in the film animal rights groups weren't happy at the work being done in remyelination (the Shaking Pups are mentioned in the film, a strain of dogs lacking myelin, as a model of the myelinopathy in ALD). The anti stem cell brigade weren't happy because, at that time, a lot of remyelination research involved foetal stem cells from aborted foetuses. Even the patient support group weren't too happy with the Odones - in the film a couple of them suggest that perhaps the children with ALD don't want to live through it and it would be a kindness to let them die. But also they seem to have been unhappy with the Odones challenging the doctors rather than meekly acquiescing.

Keith wondered what would happen if someone like Augusto Odone approached Croda today with a request to rustle up some erucic acid and turn it into glycerol trierucate. The current climate isn't particularly conducive to that sort of thing, however he mentioned that although the oil isn't much of a moneyspinner it did pay dividends in terms of opening up other avenues of research, in particular the omega 3 oils.

Questions after the film included some interesting discussion on the efforts patients and carers have had to go to in order to understand things about their disease - as I was leaving I chatted briefly to someone there and told them about Patients Participate! which is trying to get patients involved in the writing of summaries of medical research papers that are understandable to people without a medical or science background. Anyway, a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I could have quite happily have rewound the evening and sat through it all again, both film and talks.

Thanks to the RSC, Keith Layden from Croda and Cristina Odone for a fantastic evening.

Other thoughts
In filling in the 'suggest other films relating to chemistry' bit of the evaluation form I put in a bid for Extraordinary Measures. That stars Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser so I might be a tad biased in favour but it's a great story. It's about John Crowley (Fraser) who mounts an expedition to find something to stop his children, diagnosed with Pompé disease, from dying. His company develops a candidate enzyme replacement therapy which isn't a cure but keeps his kids alive.

I suppose there are some (superficial) similarities between the two films - if I was curating a chemistry film season I might put a couple of films between them - ALD relates to an enzyme found in peroxisomes, Pompé to an enzyme in lysosomes (it's a lysosomal storage disorder). I'm not sure if ALD relating to lipids and Pompé to carbohydrates helps make them seem that different either. The chemistry of the treatment is quite different though, with the oil for ALD involving organic chemistry and lipid synthesis whereas that for Pompé seems to involve recombinant goings on in bioreactors. Lorenzo's Oil makes several references to the family's Catholic faith, I don't remember any such references in Extraordinary Measures although I think the title is actually of theological origin.

Hopefully the RSC will put Extraordinary Measures on though - it does involve science relating to chemistry in the context of a human interest story. Having said that, the Guardian didn't like the film. Philistines etc etc. There are some interesting blog posts about the science behind the treatment, highlighting the role of animal research, I've listed some below in the footnotes.

I might also be tempted to focus on the role of tetrodotoxin in the putative 'zombie powder' in The Serpent and the Rainbow which scared the bejesus out of me at 3am one morning, around about the time people in my lab were using tetrodotoxin and conotoxins to stimulate cells and look at the activity of calcium signals inside them. Films about toxins tend to scare me anyway but 3am, extra zombies and live burial certainly help. The film is based on work done by Wade Davis, who gives rather interesting talks (I've only seen them online).

Appendix
I am not a geneticist but...
The error that results in a faulty enzyme is found on part of the X chromosome. Everyone has at least one of these - women have two (one from their mum and one from their dad) and men have one (from their mum, but none from their dad - they're men because they've received a Y chromosome from their dad instead). So women are XX and men are XY with the orange denoting the mum's contribution and green the dad's.

A woman is unlikely to have two faulty copies of the gene (on both X chromosomes). This is because ALD is generally rapidly fatal and few boys with the condition would reach adulthood and be able to reproduce. But having one copy of the gene won't cause a problem for a woman directly because she has a 'spare' copy of the gene on her other chromosome and that will override the faulty one. Men don't have this protective spare X chromosome (the Y chromosome doesn't have a copy of this gene) and so develop symptoms of ALD.

I was a lipid biochemist however...
Butter and oil are examples of fats or lipids and they are structurally very similar. Both consist of lots and lots of triglyceride units, these are made of four elements bolted together (1 molecule of glycerol and 3 fatty acids). The fatty acids are chains of carbon chains with hydrogen atoms arranged around them and a bit on the end that can link up to one of the three 'hooks' on the glycerol 'backbone'. Fatty acids generally have an even-number of carbon atoms and vary in length between 2 and 26 carbons, I think the most common ones are 14-20 carbon atoms - any longer and they're very long chain fatty acids.

Each carbon atom sits in the middle of two others (one to the 'left', one to the 'right') forming the fatty acid chain and there's a hydrogen atom above and below each carbon. One carbon forms four links (two to other carbons, two to hydrogens). Carbon atoms can also drop one of the hydrogens and form a double bond with one of the other carbons sitting next to it. A fatty acid written as 16:0 means it has 16 carbon atoms and no double bonds, whereas 18:1 means it has 18 carbons and 1 double bond. The position of the double bond(s) is important too.

Further reading
Lewis Gidez (1984) "The Lore of Lipids" (PDF)  Journal of Lipid Research Vol 25: 1430-1436. This is a short, easy-read history of fats and oils and their use in ancient societies up until nearer to the present day.
Fatty Acids
Fatty acids - carbon atoms have four bonds to play with. Each carbon atom in the chain is attached to the two carbon atoms sitting next to it (which takes up two of the available four bonds) and the other two bonds grab onto hydrogen atoms. In the fatty acid on the left every carbon atom has its maximum number of hydrogen atoms attached (two per each Carbon atom, so it's said to be 'saturated with hydrogen', can't take any more) and on the right two carbon atoms have formed a double bond between them. This means that the carbon atoms participating in the double bond have one bond attached singly to another carbon, but two bonds attached (hence 'double' bond) to the other carbon leaving only one bond free to grab a hydrogen atom. This means that the carbon chain is unsaturated with respect to hydrogen, it also means that the molecule isn't balanced - it doesn't have an equal number of hydrogens on both sides. This makes the uneven electrostatic charge try and balance out by repelling and you end up with a kink in the molecule, and that has all sorts of important things to do with the way these molecules pack together in living cells.                                                       Picture credit: "Fatty acids" from Flickr user AJC1


Footnotes
(1) in the film Don Suddaby played himself and was the person who purified erucic acid which, in the triglyceride form, contributes to the dietary oil that was given to Lorenzo as part of his treatment. It's a mixture of 4:1 glycerol trioleate and glycerol trierucate. The purified erucic acid was then combined with glycerol to form the triglyceride.

(2) Lorenzo died in 2008 a day after his 30th birthday. Given that boys diagnosed with ALD generally die within a few years of their diagnosis this is pretty staggering. Though I daresay there are outliers in ALD mortality too.

Bits about Pompé disease, relating to the film Extraordinary Measures.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Wegohealth and other spammers

Having a public blog and email address means I occasionally get spam coming through. I'm a bit miffed with WEGO Heath or whatever they're called who've presumably scraped my email from somewhere and send me unwanted invites to attend various things suitable for health activists or bloggers, despite me being in the UK.

After the first email I asked them to stop, after the second I asked again a bit more miffedly (and they promised faithfully to stop sending me stuff too), this is the third spam so I've decided to blog in case others are receiving these emails and wonder about them. Probably the simplest thing is to set up a filter to automatically delete stuff from them. Bit annoying though.

I've also discussed this with them on Twitter so it's particularly annoying to have to revisit this - they asked me what they could do to appear less spammy. My problem with the first email was that it didn't introduce them to me, we started at Level Two with an invite to blog some event or whatever but I need the Level One 'Hello this is why we've started sending you emails', I assume others like this too. So possibly they're not spam, just not very good at engaging with bloggers. Grrr.

Or possibly I am just a bit quick to anger, I do get a bit stroppy with unwanted emails - I'd be the first to admit it.

--------------------------------

Edit 14 December 2012

I still appear to be subscribed... albeit via a different (academic) email address that I didn't use to sign up to any of their mailing lists. I give up and will see what JISC/ Janet can do, if anything.

Announcing the 2012 Health Activist Awards!
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Thanks for participating in the WEGO Health Activist Awards - and for helping us to empower those who make a difference every day.
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Saturday, 13 October 2012

Home Movie Day at the Cinema Museum - 20 October 2012

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Home Movie Day (HMD) is a rather lovely thing that takes place every year where people can take their old home movies along to a local event (it's worldwide) and show them on the projectors made available for use and get advice on looking after them, getting them transferred etc.

In England the venue is the Cinema Museum in London (lucky for me).

Apart from a 1pm pre-planned showing of some of Hitchcock's home movies you never really know what's going to turn up and it's fairly pot luck. Last year when I went (for the first time) a man was talking about film footage he'd taken as a boy while at Rugby School. There was also some footage of the King's Coronation.

It was rather lovely to stand in a darkened room and hear the projector whirring away, it's a rather cosy sort of experience which is enhanced by the fact that tea and cake is available. I took the photos at the end of this post last year (2011) and fell in love with the Kalee projectors - there's an amazing shot among them of one of them (embiggened below) lit up by a shaft of sunlight, that was just coincidence, it wasn't the arclight that would have powered them when in use!

I also thought this was interesting, from the umbrella organisers, about the risks of people assuming that transferring their old reels to VHS or DVD meant they were safely stored forever:

"[the organisers of the event] also knew that many people were having their amateur films transferred to videotape or DVD, with the mistaken idea that their new digital copies would last forever and the "obsolete" films could be discarded. Original films (and the equipment required to view them) can long outlast any version on VHS tape, DVDs, or other digital media. Not only that, but contrary to the stereotype of the faded, scratched, and shaky home movie image, the original films are often carefully shot in beautiful, vibrant color—which may not be captured in a lower-resolution video transfer. "

Home Movie Day
Saturday 20 October 2012, 11am-5pm, Cinema Museum, Dugard Way (near Newington Butts, by Elephant and Castle. It's a short walk from the 133 bus stop which goes from London Bridge and not a million miles away from the 53 bus which goes to the Coronet cinema in Elephant & Castle from Blackheath / Deptford / Greenwich etc).

More information
    Kalee film projectors at the Cinema Museum
    by me, taken this time last year

    Kalee film projector at the Cinema MuseumKalee film projector - Cinema Museum, KenningtonCinema fittings - stalls signc 1917 cinema fittingKalee film projectors at the Cinema MuseumCinema Museum, Kennington - outside


    Cinema Museum, a set on Flickr.Pictures taken at the Home Movie Day in 2011.

    Why do I keep banging on about the #ISS or International Space Station

    Every now and again I retweet information about when people near London might be able to see the International Space Station as it passes overhead. These visible passes cluster together and you might get a few good sightings happening over a few days or a couple of weeks and then nothing for a few weeks.

    I'm always pleased to see the ISS as it passes and I'm lucky enough to live in Blackheath so, in Summer, I can often time it so that when there's a really good pass (travelling directly overhead and so taking a long time to cross the sky) I can be on the heath which has a lovely big sky feel to it.

    Happy 10th Anniversary - International Space Station  - ISS
    From NASA and Flickr user Tim Hamilton

    This is my handy guide for the next time I find myself out and about and watching the skies and in want of snappy facts to tell the nearest passerby.

    What is it?
    It's basically a small spaceship which is circling the Earth several times a day (I think it whizzes round once every 80 minutes or so).


    Where is it?
    It's about 250 miles away, directly up, and orbiting our planet. It varies in height but is in Low Earth Orbit (so it's not a spaceship in the Star Trek sense).


    Are there people on it?
    Yes, at the moment there are six astronauts / cosmonauts from the US, Japan and Russia. At the time of writing they're on Mission 33 which runs until 12 November and is staffed by Sunita Williams (US - she's the Commander for this mission), Yuri Malenchenko (Russia), Akihiko Hoshide (Japan), Evgeny Tarelkin (Russia), Oleg Novitskiy (Russia) and Kevin Ford (US).

    Edit: 29 March 2013 - they're on Mission 35 and Canadian Commander Chris Hadfield's in charge.


    What are they, and the ISS, doing up there?
    Science! They're doing stuff on muscle and spinal weakness and how a space environment affects people, also looking at ways of tweaking communications satellites and having a jolly good nosey at the Earth and taking lots of photos.

    More info here http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/688643main_Exp33_summary.pdf 

    If you're looking at this post after Nov 12 then look here for info on the most current mission.

    How fast is it going?
    It's going at a fair old pace, about 17,000 miles per hour (to be fair it's got quite a way to travel), more info about it on the wikipedia page.


    How big is it?
    Apparently about as big as a five bedroom house. More factoids here.

    How do I see it?
    If you're on Twitter just follow @twisst - it will start sending you automatic messages whenever the ISS passes overhead with a visible pass. You'll need to have your city in your Twitter bio (eg London, UK) otherwise it won't work.

    Other helpful pages on visible sightings are NASA's own page and Heaven's Above

    So what?
    It's cool, it's up in space, there are people on it, doing science and taking awesome photos.

    Oops button - what have I done on my computer? Flight recording help

    My dear old dad has just rung me as he discovered that his Word document had randomly added red decimal points in between every word and there were lots of backwards Ps in it. He was doing track changes (hence the red text) and had no idea what these markings meant, how they'd managed to appear on his document or what he could do to get rid of them.

    So he rang me, as I am utterly brilliant at explaining computer stuff to people over the phone, with hardly any shouting ;)

    I explained that he'd probably pressed the backward P button (it's actually called a Pilcrow). Its function on Word is to show you all the spaces and paragraph marks - it can be useful for editing if you're trying to work out why something isn't sitting correctly on the page. It's a lot less useful if it just seems to randomly appear. The 'backwards P' button lives in the Format 'bit' of the Home tab on Word 2010 and pressing it toggles between backwards Ps and no backwards Ps. Problem solved.

    We had a chat about the concept of the Oops button which my mum suggested a few years ago. She used to ring me quite regularly to find out what she might have done to her computer to make it look like it was currently looking. This wasn't the same as using Ctrl+Z to undo something (although she made good use of that). Sometimes she'd press a series of buttons by accident and not know what it was that she was trying to undo.

    But it should be a bit easier for people to work out what it is that they've done on their computer - Ctrl Z probably doesn't work to toggle backwards Ps on or off.

    How can I work out what I've just inadvertently done on my computer?

    Dad and I both think it would be a marvellous invention for computers to have some sort of computer in-flight recorder system that kept a rolling record of, say, the last five actions taken and could report this to you when you pressed the Oops button that needs to be invented already.

    I have written about this before, here, but I thought it was worth rewriting about rather than just tweeting an old post.

    As I use keyboard shortcuts a lot I often press Ctrl+ some other key and if it's not the key I intended to press I can find that I've done something puzzling (eg I once inadvertently opened up some 'inspector' setting on Firefox so that I could see every single thing happening on a web page as it loaded. Fascinating but I had to ask people on Twitter how to unshow it).

    It seems like it's got potential as a usability option too - making it that bit easier for people to be less anxious about their computers. My mum found her mousepad / synaptic pointing device a bit too sensitive sometimes and the cursor would occasionally leap to a completely different part of the document she was working on, necessitating an emergency call to IT support, aka me.



    Blog stats for this blog - part three

    Updated 1 January 2013.

    Previously, on blog stats for this blog:
    Blog stats for this blog (23 January 2011)
    Blog stats for this blog - part two (30 December 2011)
    Blog stats for this blog - part three (13 October 2012) <-- this post!

    Roughly every year I post the blog stats (from Blogger's own analytics) for my blog in case anyone else fancies having a bit of a nosey at this sort of thing.

    For comparison I've had Google Analytics on my site since May/June 2010 and it says that from then until now this blog has had 88,628 unique visitors making 136,730 page views.
     I've no idea where my blog falls in terms of average hits so I'm not really in a position to feel either smug or embarrassed by the numbers, so here goes...

    My blog has recently had a bit of an increase in page visits, as always mostly from Google searches. I do pimp some of my posts on Twitter and other places but Google traffic brings more visitors. This might be very different for other types of blogs of course.

    Previous blog hits for each month along with the number of posts written in that month. These stats come from Blogger's own inbuilt analytics, not Google Analytics which gives slightly different figures (though not dramatically different).

    May 2009 - 0 hits recorded (possibly because the Blogger analytics machine just started working around this time)
    A June 2009 - 0 - 2 posts
    B July 2009 - 3,632 - 4 posts
    C August 2009 - 3,236 - 6 posts
    D September 2009 - 3,384 -  9 posts
    E October 2009 - 3,369 - 14 posts
    F November 2009 - 6,336 - 4 posts
    G December 2009 - 3,394 - 6 posts

    2010 - inexplicably absent data (77 posts in total: 9,7,7,9[April]; 2,10,4,9[August]; 5,6,4,5[December])



    H January 2011 - 3,938 - 5 posts
    I February 2011 - 3,630 - 10 posts
    J March 2011 - 5,532 - 6 posts
    K April 2011 - 4,641 - 11 posts
    L May 2011 - 4,584 - 3 posts
    M June 2011 - 5,838 - 5 posts
    N July 2011 - 4,120 - 5 posts
    O August 2011 - 4,901 - 7 posts
    P September 2011 - 6,766 - 3 posts
    Q October 2011 - 6,813 - 6 posts
    R November 2011 - 7,982 - 11 posts
    S December 2011 - 7,226 - 18 posts



    January 2012 - 8,137 - 10 posts
    February 2012 - 8,475 - 11 posts
    March 2012 - 8,115 - 9 posts
    April 2012 - 7,672 - 5
    May 2012 - 10,318 - 16
    June 2012 - 11,191 - 9
    July 2012 - 12,646 - 14
    August 2012 - 15,251 - 11
    September 2012 - 19,031 - 14
    October 2012 - 9,719 (at 13 October 2012) - 7 posts so far
    November 2012 -28,292
    December 2012 - 32,422



    As you can see things started to increase a fair bit in July / August and I suspect that's to do with one blog post I wrote on 7 June 2012 called "What happens if you block someone on Twitter? What happens if they block you?" which, for my blog, has had a disproportionate number of hits (20,500+ in three and a half months / 57,800 in six months as of 1 Jan 2013), almost entirely from Google searches (judging from the incoming search logs). One or two other posts have had a few hundred or thousand visits (the ones on Nerdy Day Trips have been popular) but most of my 300+ blogs have between 30 and 200 visits and this just gradually increments over time.

    Funnily enough "Blog stats for this blog" version 1, published on 23 January 2011 has, at time of writing, 87 hits - I definitely didn't share the post on Twitter and I suspect if people are searching for 'blog stats' they're going to be looking for something other than how many hits my blog gets (in fact I doubt Google would even show my blog in the results).

    The second version, published on 30 December 2011 has 73 hits. Plenty of my blog posts have 150-160 views.

    My blog posts on MoreNiche affiliate marketing were also pretty popular (although not on the same scale as the post about Twitter blocking) and I still get a large number of incoming traffic for people searching for information about their products. Perennial favourites are my posts on organisations that employ science communicators.

    I don't really do anything with this blog stats information, other than to think 'oh that's nice' when numbers increase a bit. I'm pleased that the post about blocking on Twitter seems to be helpful. No plans to monetize the blog, this is just my hobby.