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

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Homeopathy is hardly exactly escaping the NHS 'ban'

It's Homeopathy Awareness Week next week or as we in the snark community have it 'Homeopathy Bewareness Week'. Don't get taken in by their lies ;-)

Actually homeopathy's already been having a pretty interesting week this week.

First, plenty of people noticed its absence in the list of things the NHS is considering not paying for anymore. Second, considerably fewer people noticed that the NHS has kinda already considered this, by paying less and less for it each year anyway.

There are two sums of money at issue
  • the amount spent on NHS England prescriptions for homeopathy - less than £100,000 (see blue graph below) for 6,821 prescription items (red graph below) in 2016
  • the amount spent on the wider infrastructure for homeopathy (staff, buildings etc) - apparently about £4m to £5m in 2016

In the mid-1990s the NHS in England spent upwards of £800,000 on homeopathy for 170,000 prescription items. This has dropped precipitously over the years, as you can see from the informative and entertaining graphs below.

Picture credit: Nightingale Collaboration, used with permish :)
Version for homeopathy fans
Well done! You began the year on 1 Jan 2016 with not a single homeopathy item prescribed but ended the year with a whopping increase to 6,281 items prescribed - an increase on a par with infinity.

Where was I...
I don't have the breakdown for the non-prescription costs, estimated to be several million at the moment. It's great that the prescription costs are dropping but we may still be wasting millions on this non-treatment on the NHS.

Although homeopathy wasn't mentioned in the first raft of 'things to consider banning' it will indeed be included in later considerations, according to Julie Wood's tweet below (she's the Chief Executive of NHS Clinical Commissioners).
"Homeopathy is in the overall £400m of spend identified - currently not in
first wave of 10 products for review but this is an ongoing project"

In other words, skeptics are pushing at an open door. We're not really trailblazing the decline of homeopathy on the NHS, it's happening anyway. Perhaps we've contributed to the changing mood though - for example newspaper reports now seem less likely to champion it and more likely to laugh at its improbability.

Unsurprisingly the magazine 'What Doctors Don't Tell You' (they don't like me much) have regurgitated the misinformation ("Homeopathy escapes the NHS cuts") and also managed to add in another error at the end ("The Swiss health authority has announced that homeopathy is effective enough to be included among therapies that can be claimed under health insurance plans..."). The Swiss have done no such thing and explicitly acknowledged that homeopathy was unable to provide evidence of efficacy. However, bafflingly, they are continuing to reimburse its use in health insurance but only if administered by a doctor, so there's that I suppose.

Background reading on NHS prescription costs
Every year the costs of prescriptions in England are published. Skeptics, being amused by the drop of homeopathy spending on the NHS have kept an eye on the cost for each year, going back to 1995 (info is publicly available).

Prescription Cost Analysis, England - 2016 [NS]
Publication date: March 30, 2017
Prescription Cost Analysis, England - 2016: Data Tables [.zip]
The [NS] means a publication that is within the scope of National Statistics, the lack of a [PAS] next to it means that no Press Announcement is Scheduled.
NHS Digital Publications calendar April 2016 - March 2017
NHS Digital Publications calendar (future)
Background reading on Swiss health authority and homeopathy
The Swiss rejected homeopathy as a 'treatment' that could be reimbursed in 2005 however lots of Swiss people voted for it in 2009 to be included, among some other ineffective treatments. The health authority requested evidence of effectiveness but eventually admitted defeat and surprised everyone in 2016 with this announcement:
"In a statement released on Tuesday, the interior ministry said it had come to the conclusion that it was “impossible to provide such proof for these disciplines in their entirety”.

They will thus be treated on a par with other medical disciplines, when it comes to health insurance.

The ministry plans to continue allowing reimbursements of treatment costs by compulsory health insurance, provided they are administered by certified medical doctors." 

Bad news for homeopathy fans though, it will continue to be scrutinised...

Monday, 3 April 2017

The Imaginary Maritime Science Festival - what would you have in your perfect science festival?

"It is a bright sunny evening: the sea reflects a thousand glowing colours, and, in a minute or two, I shall be gliding on its surface." Dreams, Waking Thoughts, and Incidents by William Beckford

My thoughts are never very far from boats at the best of times and this only increases when I'm waiting for the ferry home to Greenwich, North Greenwich or Woolwich (I like to vary things a bit). While I was waiting for the Thames Clipper ferry home I jotted down, on my phone's 'notes' app, a bit of a brainstorm for an Imaginary Maritime Science Festival. Bagsy Festival Director, obviously. 

Over Easter (April 2017) Greenwich and Woolwich (not sure about North Greenwich) will be hosting the Tall Ships festival 2017, the last one (in fact the first in Greenwich / Woolwich) was in September 2014 so I'm assuming these tend to happen about every two years or so in future. Tall ships are quite large vessels with masts and sails and they look gorgeous and afford many photography opportunities. Some are static, some waft gently on the water. People can even board them. Most of them are, as far as I'm aware, entirely modern ships rather than re-enactments but they look totally re-enactment-y. I think some of them will sail up and down the Thames with visitors on them.

Image from page 142 of "The boy travellers in Australasia : adventures of two youths in a journey to the Sandwich, Marquesas, Society, Samoan and Feejee islands, and through the colonies of New Zealand, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, and

On land there are also other entertainments, last time there was woodworking and all sorts of stalls. Plenty of bunting. But I wondered about the science. Just up the hill from the water's edge there's Greenwich Park which contains its very own National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory Greenwich. They'll be open over the festival and they have lots of cool stuff to see and do as well:

Here are some of the talks, film screenings and other events that we'll have at my #IMSF (Imaginary Maritime Science Festival unless someone else is using that hashtag in which case it might be #IMSF2019). I might have got a bit carried away, but fortunately the Assistant Festival Director will be there to rein me in ;)

Maths and knots
I went to a great interactive talk ('The Mathematics of Knots') at the Orkney Science Festival in 2015 which featured mathematician Dr Julia Collins from Edinburgh University and knots expert Mark Shiner of Stromness Nautical School. We got to play around with bits of string and tie some knots too, it was ace.

Linked activities: flexagons (Martin Gardner's maths puzzles, hexahexaflexagons also used by colleagues to teach computational thinking concepts and graphs / maps (mathematics))

Image from page 213 of "Boat sailing in fair weather and foul" (1903)

Flags and semaphore, Morse and telegraphy (laying cables also pretty cool).


Film screenings
Obviously Longitude which is about Harrison and his clocks, possibly Titanic / Poseidon Adventure might be pushing it a bit.

Medicine and diSEAse (see what I did there)
A talk from the James Lind Alliance on his C18th randomised controlled trial for scurvy which suggested that citrus fruits were a good idea. Someone might also talk about A Day in the Life of a Ship's Surgeon which I'm expecting to contain a fair bit of amputation-related gore (or in which I learn that it was mostly splinters from wood). Perhaps a bit more gruesome might be talks on recovery from drowning, and 'mammalian diving reflex' - I'd certainly encourage everyone to read 'Drowning doesn't look like drowning'.

Submarine sonar beeps, radar, that anti-pirate sound device that you can blast unpleasant sounds with. I might widen it a bit to include other sounds you might hear at sea including whalesong and the loud sounds made by shrimps. Foghorns too (Sarah Angliss wrote up a lovely event in celebration of the decomissioning of the Souter Foghorn).

Life on board ship
Practising staying upright I imagine, among other things. This lends itself to multiple comparisons - different types of ships and modern versus ships of yore.

Ye Olde Ships involved a fair bit of wood, and the right type of wood at that. What makes some wood better than others. You probably won't be surprised that I went to a lovely lecture on different types of wood, as part of an economic botany course a few years ago. Modern ships seem fairly metallic. I don't know if a great deal of metalwork has ever been done ON ships, but I suppose other than the ship itself the largest lump of metal is probably the engine or the anchor.

There was a lovely Ray Mears programme from a few years back in which he and a friend created, from scratch, a birch-bark boat - made from the peelable bark of the birch tree. In the UK we can peel birch tree bark too but it's paper-thin and doesn't lend itself much to boat building.

Astronomy - when I went on a 2 week cruise a couple of years ago I entertained myself beforehand by looking into getting one of those sextant deelies and a big book of what to do with one. It turned out to be a bit more involved and fiddly so I didn't follow it up but I'd love to learn how you point something at a star, look up something in a book and declare that it's 9.32pm on Tuesday the Umpteenth of Month 1739 or something like that. Polynesian navigation seems extremely interesting too, I'd like to hear how different cultures found their way around and home again.

Image from page 206 of "The history of mankind" (1896)

Definitely want talks on longitude, possibly accompanying the film screening, also accuracy. Plus GPS and satellites, and how you can keep an eye on ships around the world with things like Shipfinder. Tides are also probably fairly important! And the Moon.

Power and movement 
Buoyancy - a notable thing about ships is that they float, when all's going well, and go forward at impressive speeds. Engines are pretty interesting, propellors, steam, those wheel things. Sails (shape, catching the wind - which leads me to wind power more generally, and wave power).

Desalination / recycling
On-ship water can be re-used.

Talks from the Royal Navy / RAF on how they land aeroplanes and helicopters on aircraft carriers and take off again. That's a bit clever.

After 43 years supporting Royal Navy RFA Gold Rover departs Portland for the final time.

Trade routes
Other than probably not being at war with Spain over Gibraltar people use ships to explore and trade, not to mention un-fun things for whales (whaling for oil!). In Greenwich we have the lovely tea clipper called the Cutty Sark which zipped around the world collecting tea and probably other stuff too. There's a fantastic film called City of Ships from 1940 which looks at the produce coming in to Tilbury Docks near London - that would definitely be in the film screening strand.

Even if only for the opportunities for dressing up and saying 'Aarrgh' a lot. Maggi Koerth-Baker's article on actors taking on the role of pirates for a museum exhibition is absolutely brilliant. The actors did so much research. A great read: Real history from a pretend pirate. My favourite pirate, Stede Bonnet, wasn't very good at it. At the Tall Ships festival this year someone will be dressing up as Pirate Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. No sign of Cutler Beckett, alas.

Great Sea Voyages
Darwin... Cook... people who did the Grand Tour by boat.

Social and cultural
In addition to a 'day in the life of' there's also sea shanties, carving scrimshaw, experiences of people left behind, plenty of sea related poetry, other traditions. Maritime mythology... mermaids and whatnot.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Tall Ships - Greenwich Regatta - Thur 13 to Sun 16 April 2017

A couple of years ago the Thames at Greenwich and Woolwich was filled with lovely ships with masts and sails gently scudding up and down the river, or moored and visitable. Greenwich Centre was a hive of festival activity and I took a lot of lovely pictures. I'm planning on repeating this joyous experience at various times and in various bits of the borough over Easter weekend as we have our Tall Ships festival back again between 13-16 April. Hooray.

Here's a nice picture I took which shows some tall ships as well as a Thames Clipper ferry which I regularly use when travelling by water. If you note the two larger spikes in the raililng, the ferry sits above the 8th to 10th of the smaller spikes between them, next to a red ship / boat.

Tall Ships and a Thames Clipper 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Google Forms - can I customise the notification email alerts? Help needed

SOLVED hooray.

I used a Google Forms add-on Email notifications for forms, which has worked beautifully - info and instructions here, and in brief below. To do this with ease I needed to revert to the old* style of Forms, to do this click on the ? mark at the bottom right of the form and choose the 'Back to the old Forms' option.

  • Install the add-on from the add-on page itself (click 'Free', top right), a blank new form will appear which you can ignore and then a pop-up will appear asking you to confirm that it can interact with your account, I said 'yes'.
  • Once it's added you'll have a new field in your Add-ons menu, on old forms it looks like this

On new forms it looks like this, but when I clicked on it there was no sign of the already added add-on, instead it offered me a range of add-ons I could search, hence my disenthusiasm for new forms.

  • Click on it and go through the steps, I left it mostly at the default settings. If you have several forms make sure you give each one a different name so that you can manage the emails when they arrive.
Resulting emailed notification looks like this

*I find the new version very fiddly and unintuitive and spend too much time clicking on all the buttons and options to find the hidden item I want that's explicitly already on the page on 'old' forms. Who needs it.

I have several work-related Google Forms which invite teachers to sign up for various things. Each time a teacher fills in a form their data is automatically stored in a Google Sheet and I get an email telling me that there's a new entry. Someone else set these up and I inherited them when they left.

Up until a few months ago these notification alert emails were useful and informative (image one), but now they look more like the second image, and are useless.

The old style of email notification, with actually useful information in it

The considerably less useful type of email alert I get now

It turns out that it's not possible to set up a notification from the forms only from the sheet - this may be something to do with the 'new' Google Forms as opposed to the old 'Legacy' version. I have been surprised to read various helpfiles telling me that it can't be done when, for months, I've been receiving them - but they mysteriously stopped in November 2016 and I've been trying to work out how to get them back. Now that I've got them I'm not awfully impressed.

I've tried adding 'add-ons' but have got nowhere with them. Is there a simple way of fixing this? I can't believe that anyone would find the info in the current notification emails an improvement on the previous one, surely everyone else is whining about this? Or is it that the person who set it up initially knew something that I didn't and have done some clever thing that I can't replicate.

Monday, 13 March 2017

BBC Radio 4 programme seeks men to talk (anonymously) about erectile dysfunction

I've had permission to post this. My friend Petra (she's the Telegraph's agony aunt among many other cool things) is involved in a BBC R4 programme looking at erectile problems and the programme's producer is looking for men who'd like (well, are willing) to be interviewed - anonymously if preferred.

There are many reasons for erection problems and diabetes can be one of them (long term raised blood glucose levels can lead to problems with blood vessels and nerves in general) which can affect any area in the body including the erectile 'machinery', and so I'm sharing this in particular with diabetes people. People who have diabetes may also experience anxiety over their health and this can be pretty antithetical to enjoying any pleasant pursuit, let alone sexual activities - it doesn't always have to mean a straightforward physical problem.

Here's Petra'a information and advice (covering a range of possible reasons for erectile dysfunction) to a woman whose partner experiences this, and below is the text of her producer's request...

To whom it may concern

I am making a programme for BBC Radio Four looking at erectile dysfunction and erection problems and wondered if you would consider being interviewed for the project. We are looking for men to share their experiences so we can highlight this very common but little talked about condition. If you were willing to talk to us, you would not need to reveal your identity.

The programme is 30 minutes long and will be broadcast on BBC Radio Four in June. It’s presented by Dr Petra Boynton who is a psychologist with a specialism in sex and relationships and works as an agony aunt for the Telegraph. She is experienced in offering advice and support to men and women with sexual problems and will be carrying out the interviews. We are hoping making the programme will encourage men to talk and seek help if they need to.

We are looking for men of any age who have or have had erection problems. We are keen to speak to men who have had problems following health issues as well as those who have psychological barriers or unknown causes for their erection difficulties.
Questions might be:
  • What erection problems do you have?
  • Do you know why it came about?
  • How soon did you seek help?
  • How did having erection difficulties make you feel?
  • How did your partner support you (or not)?
  • In what way did you seek help yourself?
  • What was useful and why? What wasn’t?
  • What treatment has helped?
  • How do you accept erection dysfunction if treatment doesn't work and you don't want surgery?
  • Why do men find it hard to talk and what is key to changing that?
Interviews would take around twenty minutes and would really just be like having an informal chat. They would be pre-recorded (not live) so you could have a chance to retake answers if you were unhappy with what you’d said.

If you have any other questions do let me know. Or if you would like to chat further before you commit to an interview, my email is and my mobile is 07740 565996

Thanks in advance.

Henrietta Harrison
Loftus Media

Monday, 6 March 2017

Things I found helpful when visiting New York from the UK

New York's lovely - I managed not to get lost (unprecedented given I have until this point had no sense of direction, but I seem to be managing with the grid system and the free CityMapper app) and of course there was no language barrier.

1. Insurance
 Once you've sorted out your flights or ship crossing get your travel insurance - it will cover you if anything goes wrong before your trip starts so there's no benefit in leaving it to the last minute. If you're taking laptops and phones you might need additional cover.

2. Esta visa
Next on the list is the Esta visa waiver which costs about $14 - you can pay with a debit card (it implies you need to pay with a credit card but I managed on a debit one) or PayPal. Watch out for fake UK versions (one or two are under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority for misleadingly claiming to be of use). Only use this website -

You'll need your passport number and the address where you'll be staying (eg hotel) but you can also quit the application and return later - keep a note of your application number which is automatically generated.

When you arrive at the US airport if it's your first visit to the US you'll probably be directed through the 'first visit on an Esta' passport check.

3. Flying
I flew with Virgin Atlantic and the option for at-seat charging was an odd-looking small hosepipe affair that required a UK to US adaptor to work, fortunately I had one in my carry-on bag and was able to lend it to someone else who needed one.

If you make the same journey(s) I made you'll leave from Terminal 3 at Heathrow (the Paddington Express train will take you to Terminals 2 and 3 at the same station and you can just follow the signs for T3) and arrive at Terminal 4 in JFK, then reversed.

4. Money
I got travel money from my bank - I'm sure you can find cheaper places to get it but it's super convenient at your bank. With smaller branches you might have to give a few days notice so that they can get the dollars but I got mine from the large one at Strand, Trafalgar Square. While in the bank I also let them know that I was to be in New York on the days of my holiday so that if my debit card was used while there they knew it was likely to be me and not some scammer.

For this trip I also got myself a Credit Card in case I needed to use it but I haven't. Last time I got one was for a cruise holiday where I needed it to pay for incidentals (they didn't go for debit cards).

5. Maps
You can use Google Maps Streetview before you go, or once there, to see what your locality will be like, and make note of subway and bus stops. There's a nice foldable detailed map of the metro system which my hotel gave me - if you're self-catering I'd recommend asking a hotel receptionist for one anyway. I didn't spot any at any of the stations I visited oddly enough. I used CityMapper on my phone to get directions.

6. Local travel
New York taxis are mostly much smaller than London cabs and quite useless for sightseeing. The two I was in were more like regular cars (not the four seat arrangement with a large gap between). You're very close to the glass partition and if you're on the passenger side the chances are high that you'll have a medium-sized TV in front of you advertising crap at you. It's possible to mute the sound at least but there's not much window space to see what's in front of you so a bus is better. But the cabs are still pretty cool.

A weekly Metrocard costs ~$32 and lets you have unlimited subway and bus journeys. You just swipe it and push the barrier. The graphics of the card looks very much like Weetabix.

I was staying in Brooklyn so on the return journey I took the A train going to Far Rockaway or Rockaway Avenue and changed at Howard Beach for the AirTrain to JFK Terminal 4. There's a slow train and a fast one but both seem to go to Howard Beach, phew. I took it from Jay Street Metrotech and this is the CityMapper journey using the web browser version.

8. Mobile phone
Before I left I got my pay as you go phone unlocked so that I didn't have to spend ridiculous sums of money on calls / texts to UK while in the US. If you've got a contract yours probably won't be that expensive but worth checking with your provider before you go. I got a US sim card which let me make US calls only, but I was also able to communicate via WhatsApp and Twitter. It was also my first experience of 4G, having only access to 3G at home.

I was surprised to see, at JFK airport on my return, that there are vending machines that sell pre-paid sim cards with different options, though it turns out from looking at them that my in-shop deal was pretty decent.

9. Software support
I use WorkFlowy for making lists (eg for packing or tasks) and Evernote to record info about my trip. I have sections for flight, travel documents (passport / visa), hotel details and packing. Both sync with my phone. I also tag emails in Gmail and keep them in a dedicated folder (before you leave make sure they've synced / downloaded to the right folder). While here I used CityMapper on my phone and switched cities from London to New York (it automatically recognises if you're in a different city and suggests this).

I also kept an eye on the weather app on my phone which told me that New York was going to be both much warmer and much colder than London, so I could pack accordingly.

10. Paper-based support
I'm naturally fairly chaotic so to impose some order I use a clipboard and draw columns on a bit of paper. A small one on the right is for anything that needs to be done or bought in advance of leaving and I have two larger main ones, one each for the bags I'm packing. I have been using WorkFlowy for so long that I now have a very good generic list of things to pack which I adapt for each trip. Once I've packed an item in the bag I write it on the paper (handy for double-checking I've not lost anything on the return journey). I'm afraid I'm neither relaxed nor carefree about holidays ;)

This is highly personalised to me, but here's the gist of what I packed.

  • Spare shoes (always nice to have another pair to change into if you can carry them, if not a pair of insoles can be nice if you're doing a lot of walking on your visit)
  • Spare pair of jeans
  • 'Smalls' - socks and the like - the longer you're away the fewer of these you can pack as you can wash and dry them. For a short holiday my mantra is 'plenty'. Most of them fit into the spare shoes rolled up
  • T-shirts - if just a few I leave them flat, if more I roll them
  • Leggings / thermals
  • Wash bag (deodorant, nail scissors are useful for all sorts of reasons but best kept in checked in bag unless blades are very small) 
  • a bag to put laundry in
  • bit of A5 paper (A4 folded in half!) with my name, phone number and email address saying who the bag belongs to - handy if it gets lost or there's a dispute ;) 
Sporty people might want to bring gym or pool clothing too. I was dressing casually for a walking around New York trip and didn't bring any smart clothes or jewellery.

Carry-on bag
  • Passport
  • Flight info 
  • Hotel contact details so that I can give it to the taxi
  • Pens / Pencils and writing material
  • Maps of New York
  • Reading material
  • Mobile phone charger, cable and UK to US adaptor
  • wet wipes / plasters / ibuprofen
  • spare t-shirt / underwear in case main bag goes AWOL
  • laptop plus charging cable
  • Snacks / chewing gum / water 
  • headphones
  • currency of country being visited (home country currency is in my pockets until arrival)
  • toothpaste / brush (8 hour flight!)
If you're flying at night-time you might want to bring your pyjamas to change into.

  • Clothes, obviously
  • Keys
  • Coins in one of those plastic bank coin bags for ease of plonking on tray at security 
  • Bank cards / travelcard / keys (moved to carry-on bag once on flight)
  • Phone

Open air cinema screenings - London 2017

Yippee - it's a few weeks before London's annual Open Air Cinema season begins, which means that it's time for my annual Open Air Cinema Screenings in London post. Not many films have been listed yet but we've already had one screening, in February (!) though I'm more of a fan of waiting until it gets a little bit warmer myself. The actual post is an embedded Storify which is regularly updated as new films are published - feel free to pinch the text or embed the Storify into your own site. That way more people will get to know about open air movie options. Think of it as Creative Commons.

Previous editions

Monday, 27 February 2017

Please tell me about any open-air cinema screenings you know of in London

Every year I create a big list of all known (to me, I'm certain I must miss some) open-air cinema screenings in London.

Here's last year's:  Open Air Cinema Screenings in London 2016

I do this by trawling known purveyors of outdoor films, listed below - let us heap praise upon their names - and by googling, and serendipity. Also lovely people sometimes tell me about stuff they've heard of and marvellous Dave from Pop Up Screens always sends me a note, and sometimes a rather handy spreadsheet listing all films, dates and locations.

If you do the publicity for anyone or any organisation that is likely to screen such films please add me to your press list thingy ( Just a note to 'look at this page, we've published our films and more will be added soon' will do but if you happen to have an easily copy and pastable list then that makes things easier. But given that I enjoy hunting for films so much I don't care if you stick them in a non-OCR* PDF and I have to type them out by hand. Sometimes you'll have a mixture of films in London and elsewhere, or a mix of outdoor and non-outdoor - just send them all over and I'll prune out the ones for my list.

Over the last couple of years we've also had (honestly I get so excited just thinking about it) the newer London Free Film Festivals, with several sub-film festivals happening in different bits of London such as Deptford & New Cross, Camberwell. Other than the obviously free 'free film festivals' some of the other films are free too, though most aren't. Some film events are quite event-y and cost a bit more, but you get all sorts of exciting add-ons. I will cheerfully list them all :)

Here's where I look first (not all organisations screen films every year, some are one-offs but I keep them there in case they return) -

• Backyard Cinema (Camden Market) - (
• BFI at the British Museum - no link yet (a couple of years ago I saw A Room With A View in the courtyard at the British Museum which was lovely)
• BP Big Screens (Royal Opera and Royal Ballet) -
• Experience Cinema (from Rooftop Film Club) - (
• Floating Cinema -
• Free Film Festival (London) -
• Herne Hill Free Film Festival -
• Kew the Movies -
• The Luna Cinema -
• More London (Scoop) - and London Bridge City Summer Festival!film/a94rd
• New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival -
• The Nomad Cinema - - London outdoor screenings and also
interesting indoor venues (
• Open Air Theatre (Regent's Park) -
• Pop Up Screens - (
• Rooftop Film Club - (4 venues - Bussey Building, Peckham;
Queen of Hoxton, Shoreditch; Roof East, Stratford, Roof Gardens, Kensington) and Tobacco Dock
• Shuffle Festival -
• Somerset House - ( 4-17 Aug 2016
• Tudor Barn Eltham -
• Underground Film Club (from Rooftop Film Club) -

*Optical Character Recognition - the sorcery that allows some scanned PDFs to be queried textually rather than as a picture.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Not getting homeopathy events moved from universities - can't win 'em all

Summary - despite requests to move or cancel it Birkbeck (University of London) will continue to host an event promoting homeopathy for women's health conditions. Homeopathy is not a valid system of medicine.

Edit: I've not even published this post yet and have only just spotted this phrase which appears in the testimonials (not in the main marketing text, but what do you think testimonials are for) -

"I highly recommend taking the course on Female Diseases, as his presentation will provide a book filled with serious cured cases such as cancers, fibroids, infertility and much more" - emphasis added. It's possible that the addition of that comment is problematic under the Cancer Act 1939.

Universities hosting homeopathy (or any alternative medicine / quackery) events is problematic for several reasons.
  1.  It gives the event the fillip and prestige of being hosted at a respected academic institution (whether or not this is exploited or explicitly implied in other marketing material)
  2. It suggests that the event, or type of 'treatment', is a little less ridiculous than it might be if it had been hosted at Teehee McFunny's Mirthful Comedy Cabaret
  3. Not university-specific, but let's assume that an event promoting an unproven treatment is not in people's best interests and perhaps higher-education institutes might prefer not to give them house-room.
  4. As I'm not a lawyer I don't know if this is piffle (and I only read about it on Wikipedia [see bit on Education act]) but it seems that people can get away with saying things in an academic setting in the UK that they might be less able to say in another setting - possibly this affects academics only not visiting quacks. Though if it affects everyone it suggests that quacks might be able to overclaim for their quackery.
Birkbeck (part of the University of London) is hosting a homeopathy event for 'female diseases'. Presenting at the event is a visiting doctor from India and the event's application form makes it clear it's aimed at homeopaths or student homeopaths rather than the general public. However I think anyone can apply (and since 'homeopath' isn't a protected term anyone could put student homeopath (for example they might be doing a short course at a local community college)), and spend around £200 to attend. That's £200, wasted on this event.

To be fair the event organisers have not made much of the fact that it's taking place at the University of London but the text of the marketing for the event certainly seems at odds with academia.

There is a shopping list of 'female conditions' which include endometriosis, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian disease, amenorrhoea [stopped periods]) as well as things like miscarriage and infertility. Homeopathy is very unlikely to be of much use here.

Because this isn't an advert for a product the text doesn't fall within the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority so there would be no benefit in complaining about it to them. However I think it's interesting to consider that - if an advert - the ASA would likely rule against it, because of the mention of serious medical conditions and the implication that homeopathy might be of use to people who have them. When adjudicating on previous adverts the ASA have considered that listing medical conditions may encourage people to forgo appropriate medical advice (bad!). While the ASA don't get a say on this event's marketing it seems a good rule of thumb that if they'd not permit it as an advert it's perhaps not much good for an event at a university.

The event promo ends with "There is no claim here that homeopathy can heal, treat or cure these medical conditions. Homeopathy is used to trigger natural healing mechanisms of the whole person to work better rather than address particular symptoms. These case studies will be used to talk through techniques that were used to lift the general wellbeing of the people concerned." but simply writing this isn't really much use, given that the rest of the page rather contradicts it.

For example "Medical test results are shown before and after homeopathic treatment for most cases leaving no doubt about the changes that have occurred" and the speaker "will encourage you to feel more able to support challenging cases, perhaps even where the experts have given up" - this seems quite close to claiming that homeopathy can heal.

A couple of people on Twitter have contacted Birkbeck about this event (I don't know the outcome of that). I emailed Birkbeck (copy below) to ask them to distance themselves from the event, and while I've acknowledged my hope that it's cancelled I've not specifically asked them to do that. I just don't think it should be hosted at a university.

Recently there was some success in stopping a different event, though I heard about it only after it was all over. Curzon Cinemas had been about to host 'Vaxxed' and a Q&A with Andrew Wakefield (disgraced former medic who is no longer allowed to practice after his role in deliberately falsifying medical data relating to autism and vaccines) but after criticism from doctors and scientists this event was pulled.

There were a few tweets about it and I replied to one that "I am currently failing to get a event for women's health moved from Uni of London (Birkbeck)."

I was deliberately precise in my language of moving not removing or cancelling despite this a couple of people challenged me (nicely, I might add!) asking "what's the reasoning behind trying to get this event cancelled? I mean, aside from it being fake science?" and "[other text] ...but forcing ppl to pull events is a dangerous line to cross", which I hope I've clarified for them, as I'm not doing either - though I'd not complain one bit if the event was pulled.

Trading Standards have previously taken action to shut down events, or venues have pre-emptively cancelled events, where people would have tried to talk about cancer cures (doing so may be illegal under the Cancer Act 1939). Similarly there have been raids on events promoting MMS (a form of bleach) as a miracle cure, including for autism. I don't have a problem with unsafe medical events being stopped from going ahead. Women are not well-served by this event which promotes a form of non-treatment for potentially serious health conditions.

Birkbeck have replied that the event is still going ahead and have pointed me to their free speech policy for their events. It's a good document but unfortunately this homeopathy event is not considered to breach it, so the document doesn't really 'protect' against utter hooey being presented uncritically. This is good news for homeopaths and I'd advise them to host their future events at academic instutions ;)

At some point I'll add a much briefer version of this to the 'failures' section of the Skeptic (activism) successes in homeopathy post and Storify (embedded in the linked post).

Copy of the email I sent to Birkbeck in December

I wasn't planning on blogging about this particular homeopathy event so please forgive me sending it to the press team but this was the first email address available through the contacts page. Twitter has made me aware that someone will be running an event on using 'homeopathy for female diseases', at Birkbeck (address listed on the event page) [link redacted] in March.
Homeopathy is not a valid intervention for any health condition and it's fairly startling that this is taking place at Birkbeck, and that people are charged money to attend. From extensive previous experience of university venues being exploited in this way it's fairly clear this will be framed as a prestigious University of London venue recognising the value of homeopathy.
Please can you pass on my request to whoever deals with room booking and ask them to do whatever is possible to distance Birkbeck from this quack event taking place. In an ideal world the event would simply be cancelled, though being moved elsewhere is usually what happens.
There is a shopping list of conditions that the speaker imagines himself qualified to speak on (doubtful) including fibroids, thyroid problems and miscarriage. This event promotes mistaken and potentially harmful interventions for women.

Many thanks, and best wishes,

Postscript - incidentally the event organisers haven't exploited the prestige at all so I'm wrong on that one, but I am still concerned by the overall 'framing' of the event, implying that a homeopathy event is an appropriate one for academic institution, I really think it isn't. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Simple-text list of London boroughs

I find I need this so often and keep having to process a list from Wikipedia or elsewhere that I've finally decided to add it here for copying and pasting. Each time I do this, and search for a list, I stupidly believe that I'll come across a list I think I saw once - but I never do. So here it is.

Plain text version is tab-separated-variables and will parse into individual cells in an Excel spreadsheet. Second version is numbered alphabetically. There are 32 London boroughs and City of London is a separate thing so 33 in total. Third version is bullet points. Help yourself.

Other useful bits at the end.

Plain text version
Barking and Dagenham
City of London
Hammersmith and Fulham
Kensington and Chelsea
Kingston upon Thames
Richmond upon Thames
Tower Hamlets
Waltham Forest

Numbered alphabetically
  1. Barking and Dagenham
  2. Barnet
  3. Bexley
  4. Brent
  5. Bromley
  6. Camden
  7. City of London
  8. Croydon
  9. Ealing
  10. Enfield
  11. Greenwich
  12. Hackney
  13. Hammersmith and Fulham
  14. Haringey
  15. Harrow
  16. Havering
  17. Hillingdon
  18. Hounslow
  19. Islington
  20. Kensington and Chelsea
  21. Kingston upon Thames
  22. Lambeth
  23. Lewisham
  24. Merton
  25. Newham
  26. Redbridge
  27. Richmond upon Thames
  28. Southwark
  29. Sutton
  30. Tower Hamlets
  31. Waltham Forest
  32. Wandsworth
  33. Westminster
Bullet point version
  • Barking and Dagenham
  • Barnet
  • Bexley
  • Brent
  • Bromley
  • Camden
  • City of London
  • Croydon
  • Ealing
  • Enfield
  • Greenwich
  • Hackney
  • Hammersmith and Fulham
  • Haringey
  • Harrow
  • Havering
  • Hillingdon
  • Hounslow
  • Islington
  • Kensington and Chelsea
  • Kingston upon Thames
  • Lambeth
  • Lewisham
  • Merton
  • Newham
  • Redbridge
  • Richmond upon Thames
  • Southwark
  • Sutton
  • Tower Hamlets
  • Waltham Forest
  • Wandsworth
  • Westminster
Other useful bits
London borough mapping tool (eg if you've got 4 things in Lewisham and 10 in Sutton and want to map this with a colour-graded heatmap etc) -

London schools atlas:

Friday, 20 January 2017

Air Studios in Hampstead and basement excavations next door

I've been following the fate of Air Studios in Hampstead for the last year or so ever since I heard that their neighbours had put in a planning application to excavate their basement to make room for fun and exciting things. The noise and disruption would be offputting under any circumstances, all the more so given that this is a recording studio which has particular requirements about noise. I might be a bit partisan of course because I'm a fan of the composer David Arnold who works there (and who, with Michael Price, writes and records that amazing music for the BBC's Sherlock series).

Imagine discovering that you've bought the wrong house. Were it me I'd have preferred to buy the right one rather than hollowing out its bowels to accommodate new features. Great big changes to a house that disturb neighbours (fine it's a house in the middle of nowhere) seems ... well a bit ... y'know, vulgar. Perhaps I'm just a snob.

Basement excavations are tricky things to get right at the best of times but when they go wrong they can really go disastrously wrong. The Health and Safety Executive published a press release (Basement building in London faces safety scrutiny) in March 2015 highlighting that in the preceding ten years 17 construction workers had died and 27 were seriously injured during basement excavation work. I don't know how that compares with other construction work though, but it seems rather a lot.

From the same press release...
"In December 2014, following the death of a labourer in a basement excavation collapse in Fulham, a company director was found guilty of manslaughter offences and jailed."
"The work is technically challenging and can carry substantial risk. Standards are often poor and often vulnerable sections of the labour market are recruited."
There have been a few mentions of the problem of basement excavations aka subterranean development in Parliament (you can search the easy-to-use version of the Hansard reports here) -
"Basements are a real problem. Anybody who lives in an area where basements are spreading will accept that they are a problem. If you talk to people who live next door to where a basement is being dug out, they will tell you, “For heaven’s sake, we have no peace, we cannot sleep”."
Lord Dub:
When these things go well they just make a lot of noise and disturb neighbours and when they go badly they cause a lot of damage and injuries. Since they benefit so few people (well I suppose the contractors still alive at the end of the work benefit too) it seems an odd balance sheet to have.

Collapsing buildings, or Einst├╝rzende bauten
- note: this is, by definition, a biased sample of basement excavation stories as it's unlikely that 'home redevelopment passes without incident' would be mentioned in the press. But still, there's an awful lot of this sort of thing. With further (cautious) digging I'm sure I could find more. There are certainly plenty of applications.
"In 2001 the borough of Kensington & Chelsea received 46 planning applications for basements; last year [2013] it received 450." (The Guardian)
Some stories refer to other examples so I've tracked back and found others that I'd not been aware of. In a handful of the cases below no damage occurred (or hasn't occurred yet).

  1. Barnet, January 2017
    Basement excavations haven't helped a pub's renovation much (Broken Barnet)
  2. Blackheath, December, 2016
    No problem yet but parents are concerned about a basement development planning application near a school (London News Online)
  3. Cardiff, October 2016
    After a basement extension collapsed the owner was refused further planning permission (Daily Mail)
  4. Penarth, June 2016
    House collapses during basement extension (BBC News Wales)
  5. Richmond, June 2016
    No problem yet but residents surprised that a planning application accepted, and warn of 'iceberg' developments. Similarity to the collapsed building in Barnes in Nov 2015. (Richmond & Twickenham Times)
  6. Barnes, November 2015
    House collapses during basement excavation (BBC News)
  7. Hackney, November 2015
    Ceiling collapsed, attributed to basement work next door (Hackney Citizen)
  8. Finchley, October 2015
    A house split in half when the basement excavation went bad. It took the couple a lot of effort and legal misery to get compensation (Daily Mail)
  9. Marylebone, April 2014
    A burst water main (which had been leaking for 90 years) caused the problem, not the basement excavation itself. When work began the softened ground gave way (Evening Standard)
  10. Warren Mews, London, August 2013
    Basement excavation caused noise misery for nearby residents, and damage to cobblestones but I don't think any buildings fell down, hooray (Fitzrovia News)
  11. Hampstead, NW3, June 2013
    Neighbours express concern about plans for a basement excavation (The Telegraph)
  12. Kent, January 2011
    Worker excavating a basement at Benenden School badly injured (The Construction Index)
  13. Fulham, December 2010
    Builder dies when basement collapses (BBC News). 
  14. Belgravia, October 2010
    A skip fell through the road after the basement beneath it was excavated (Evening Standard)
  15. Camden, March 2010
    Basement excavation work carried out without planning permission does enough damage that the nearby homes of two families had to be demolished (BBC News)
  16. Gateshead, October 2009
    Fortunately this garage excavation was nipped in the bud and damage averted (Chronicle Live)

Friday, 13 January 2017

Unusual Thunderbird mail glitch (overenthusiastic scrolling) - any ideas

I have three panels on Thunderbird (v45.6.0). Full length on the left is the list of folders then on the right split horizontally are two - on the top it's the list of emails in the mailbox I'm viewing and the panel below is the email I'm clicked on.

Normally if I move the cursor into the email pane and start scrolling (even without clicking into the pane) the text of the email moves so that I can read the complete message. I've found that Thunderbird just scrolls up and down through the messages above, meaning that what I can see in the message pane changes. It's a bit frustrating.

It's been going on for a while but I noticed a few days ago that it seemed to have sorted itself out without me doing anything. Alas after switching off and on again I'm back to the overly excitable scrolly thing.

Additionally the rate of scroll is impressively fast, with the slightest touch on the mousepad (Lenovo, Windows 10) making the cursor leap to the top or bottom of the message, or mailboxes, list. This isn't a mousepad sensitivity problem because scrolling behaves normally in all other programs.

I'm hoping that if I don't switch off my computer for a few days it might settle down by itself but I don't know what's causing it or how to find the settings to interact with that aspect of it.

The only scroll options I've found make no difference, in any permutation.

Any ideas what's causing it, and what I might do to fix it? Thanks!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Is there a list of places that employ Computer Science graduates?

Back in 2003 I wanted to find out what was available to someone (me!) new to the world of science communication. It's a huge field that encompasses museum explainers, people working in press and PR in medical research charities, bloggers / journalists / science writers, scientists and researchers working in educational or corporate institutions who want to talk to non-specialists about their work etc. I began making a note of "organisations that might employ science communicators" with a focus on London which is where I live.

As my list got bigger it naturally fell into themed areas (charities, learned societies, universities etc) and in 2009 I published what I had found, and others suggested new organisations and new thematic areas. It's a resource for people looking for work 'now' or for those who are 'prospecting' and want to find out what sort of things are available.

Where London science communicators might work (July 2009)

I wondered, on reading the Shadbolt Review (of computer science degree accreditation and graduate employability) if there might be something similar for people interested in working with computers or 'in computing'.
"We have gathered evidence that, outside of the large and well-known technology companies, the potential computer-related careers paths on offer to graduates can often be unclear and that graduate outcomes can be impacted through a lack of knowledge about the industries in which they could make effective use of their skills and knowledge." - 7.29, p77 of 91 in the Shadbolt review (below)

One of the recommendations, Recommendation 5, looks at careers advice and visibility of graduate opportunities - bemoaning the fact that students (and perhaps pre-students wondering what direction to head in) don't really have a good overview of what's available. In science communication I see that quite a few job openings are circulated within small groups - I wonder if prospective applicants (and, in this case, computer science students) are aware of that infrastructure, if those jobs aren't more widely findable.

Computer science degree accreditation and graduate employability: Shadbolt review (May 2016) 

Computing is an even wider field than science communication because almost every profession has its own software, and individuals skilled in unrelated matters might use software for their business needs. Employers like banks, charities, Google, Microsoft, Apple - not to mention startups - provide employment for people who are good at computers. Many of those employed will likely have or need a Computer Science degree but since there are plenty of self-taught computer geniuses in the maker / tinkering community too.

There's this, but the page is too vague for what I'm after but it is from ACGAS who are mentioned in the report (p78 of 91).

Edit: 12 January
I wrote this post yesterday (11 Jan 20117) then somehow inadvertently managed to revert it to a draft and delete the text within an hour or two of publication. Given that the Blogger platform is owned by Google and Google crawls Blogger blog posts very regularly I assumed I'd be able to find a cached copy, but alas it wasn't to be, so I've had to remember what I wrote, and then rewrite it. Silly mistake really.

Friday, 6 January 2017

"England, their England" on the lovely Marylebone Station

My dad recommended "England, their England" to me, in particular for its 'bit' on Marylebone Station in London. There are several ways* of getting to Harrow from (slightly more central) London and the one that involves Marylebone is the loveliest and quickest. Chiltern Rail have a service running twice an hour and it takes less than 15mins.

Marylebone always feels like it's from a bygone rail age and, like Paddington, is filled with the (to me, lovely) sound of rail engines idling. One fault is that the Harrow train (destination Aylesbury) is often hidden on Platform 6 which is that bit further away from the concourse. Worse, there are usually two trains on the platform and the one furthest away is the one you need. Often they give you less than 10 mins notice which is fine for me but was an awful burden on my poor dad who really struggled to get to the train in that time.

Just outside the station you can get the 2 (goes to Victoria) or 205 (goes to Stepney Green / Bow) bus and if you cross the road there's the 453 to Deptford Bridge. There's also a normal-priced newsagents shop there if you want refreshments for a longer journey (Marylebone goes to Birmingham, Oxford (as of 12 Dec 2016), Warwick etc).

Anyway here's what England, their England has to say about the station and a journey to Aylesbury (written in 1933 by AG Macdonell, set in the 1920s).
"Two days later he was at Marylebone Station, quietest and most dignified of stations, where the porters go on tiptoe, where the barrows are rubber-tyred and the trains sidle mysteriously in and out with only the faintest of toots upon their whistles so as not to disturb the signalmen, and there he bought a ticket to Aylesbury from a man who whispered that the cost was nine-and-six, and that a train would probably start from Number 5 platform as soon as the engine-driver had come back from the pictures, and the guard had been to see his old mother in Baker Street.

Sure enough a train marked Aylesbury was standing at Number 5 platform. According to the timetable it was due to start in ten minutes, but the platform was deserted and there were no passengers in the carriages. The station was silent. The newspaper boy was asleep. A horse, waiting all harnessed beside a loaded van, lay down and yawned. The dust filtered slowly down through the winter sunbeams, gradually obliterating a label upon a wooden crate which said "Urgent. Perishable."

Donald took a seat in a third-class smoker and waited. An engine-driver came stealthily up the platform. A stoker, walking like a cat, followed him. After a few minutes a guard appeared at the door of the carriage and seemed rather surprised at seeing Donald.

"Do you wish to travel, sir?" he asked gently, and when Donald had said that he was desirous of going as far as Aylesbury, the guard touched his hat and said in a most respectful manner, "If you wish it, sir." He reminded Donald of the immortal butler, Jeeves. Donald fancied, but he was not quite sure, that he heard the guard whisper to the engine-driver, "I think we might make a start now, Gerald," and he rather thinks the engine-driver replied in the same undertone, "Just as you wish, Horace."

Anyway, a moment or two later the train slipped out of the station and gathered speed in the direction of Aylesbury.

The railway which begins, or ends, according to the way in which you look at it, from or at Marylebone, used to be called the Great Central Railway, but is now merged with lots of other railways into one large concern called the London, Midland and South Coast or some such name. The reason for the merger was that dividends might be raised, or lowered, or something. Anyway, the line used to be called the Great Central and it is like no other of the north-bound lines. For it runs through lovely, magical rural England. It goes to places that you have never heard of before, but when you have heard of them you want to live in them—Great Missenden and Wendover and High Wycombe and Princes Risborough and Quainton Road, and Akeman Street and Blackthorn. It goes to places that do not need a railway, that never use a railway, that probably do not yet know that they have got a railway. It goes to way-side halts where the only passengers are milk-churns. It visits lonely platforms where the only tickets are bought by geese and ducks. It stops in the middle of buttercup meadows to pick up eggs and flowers. It glides past the great pile of willow branches that are maturing to make England's cricket-bats. It is a dreamer among railways, a poet, kindly and absurd and lovely.

You can sit at your carriage window in a Great Central train and gallop your horse from Amersham to Aylesbury without a check for a factory or a detour for a field of corn or a break for a slum. Pasture and hedge, and pasture and hedge, and pasture and hedge, mile after mile after mile, grey-green and brown and russet, and silver where the little rivers tangle themselves among reeds and trodden watering-pools.

There are no mountains or ravines or noisy tunnels or dizzy viaducts. The Great Central is like that old stream of Asia Minor. It meanders and meanders until at last it reaches, loveliest of English names, the Vale of Aylesbury."
The full text is available at Project Gutenberg Canada.

*An almost identical journey (running on a parallel line, though sometimes they run on the same tracks) is the Metropolitan tube line from Baker Street a few minutes walk away from Marylebone, that takes about ~20 minutes. Euston runs a rail service to Harrow & Wealdstone and Hatch End etc. The Overground trains also go from various North Central London stations to Harrow & Wealdstone but that's a slow stopping train.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Possible rapprochement with poetry

I've always found poetry a bit irritating. Probably my feelings about it stem from school English lessons in which we were encouraged to consider "what the poet was really trying to say" which made me wonder "why couldn't they just say it that way then?"

My particular peeve is with poems that don't scan and which have lines where the poet has pressed 'enter' too soon (it's called enjambment). The poem continues on the next line but you read the line as if it's continuous. Why? Why would anyone do that? Technically I know because I've read that Wikipedia article on enjambment that I just linked to. It seems like it wouldn't work with limericks as you need a bit of breathing space between the lines for the rhythm to work, though of course now I can think of examples where I'm wrong ;)

I'm interested in science communication generally and specifically in health communication in which complex medical information is explained to non-specialists, with some significant effort made to reduce ambiguity in the explanation (see the terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public here). Scientists and non-scientists may understand quite different things by 'model', or 'protein' or 'theory' so precision is required. This might also have coloured my view of poetry, which I acknowledge can be precise, but still poems seem to go out of their way to be oblique. Either the meaning has to be teased out (what inefficient communication!) or it appears to be incomprehensible gibberish. And said in a special intoning poetry voice.

I had a bit of epiphany yesterday though, and it's thanks to my love of film music. Music used in films can sneak up on you without you necessarily being aware of it, or the feelings it creates. It can create all sorts of moods and underscore what's happening on screen, or it can hint that something on-screen is not actually as it appears. It manages to do this without words and I'm gradually coming round to the idea that the rhythm / meter in poetry might be vaguely analogous to the pace of the music. Presumably the words themselves are meant to evoke something rather than actually making their meaning clear, perhaps a bit like those lovely Uilleann pipes always evoke Irish / celtic associations, or certain types of drum rhythms evoke the US military in films. That's about as far as I've got with mulling this over, but I might have to try and rethink my irritation with poetry.

Poems should still rhyme though, and preferably be funny :)