Mis establos!!!

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'.

I work on the EPSRC-funded @CHI_MED project; all views are my own. I used to work at Diabetes UK (until 22 June 2012) as a Science Information Officer (effectively a science-specialist librarian but not quite a clinical librarian). Before that it was ScienceLine and back in the mists of time it was lipid chemistry & neuroscience.

Contact: @JoBrodie or reconfigure this email address me.meeeee @ gmail.com (replace me and meeeee with obvious letters, eg... jo.brodie@ etc).

Oh OK then it's jo dot brodie at gmail dot com

Sunday, 27 July 2014

I've no idea which Raspberry Ketones weight loss products can legally be sold in the UK

Short version: (1) Bottles of pills containing raspberry ketones may be being sold illegally in the UK because they are an unauthorised novel food whose safety hasn't been assessed properly. (2) Raspberry ketones are a waste of money as a weight loss supplement (no good evidence they work, any weight lost is solely due to changes in diet / exercise.

Full post: A couple of weeks ago I learned from BBC1's Watchdog that it might actually be illegal for companies to sell Raspberry Ketone products in the UK (if you've bought some online with a credit or debit card you may be able to get your money back - there's no evidence they help with weight loss), and tweeted the following:

Were I sending that tweet now I'd probably add a couple of caveats: (1) I don't know what sort of crime it is (unfair trading? mislabelling?) or what the punishment would be (fine more likely than jail I'd think) and (2) it seems to depend on the type of product on sale.

In October last year the Food Standards Agency (FSA) opened up a consultation with people who sell raspberry ketone products and asked for information about the products. One thing the FSA were keen to find was evidence that these products had been widely consumed in the UK since before 1997.
Under Regulation (EC) 258/97, novel foods and food ingredients may only be marketed if they have been evaluated and authorised under the procedures defined in the regulation. A novel food or ingredient is defined as one that was not consumed to a significant degree in the European Community before 15 May 1997. Raspberry ketones have not been authorised under this regulation.

The Agency is not aware of any evidence for a history of consumption of raspberry ketones anywhere in the EU before May 1997 and we are therefore minded to view it to be a novel food, which cannot be sold legally until it has been formally authorised. As such, any companies who wish to market foods containing raspberry ketones in the EU will need to apply for an authorisation under Regulation (EC) 258/97. Such an authorisation would require the submission of a dossier to one of the 28 EU Member States, demonstrating that the ingredient (a) does not present a risk to the consumer; (b) does not mislead the consumer; and (c) is not nutritionally disadvantageous compared with other foods that it might replace in the diet.
Source: Request for information from businesses: Raspberry ketones FSA 24 October 2013 [emphasis added by me]

In March they published their findings and I have to say I'm still a bit confused. Very reasonably the FSA makes a distinction between different types of raspberry ketone products noting that some can be sold without problem, but that some need to have some sort of authorisation.

Some raspberry ketones are fine...

"We received and reviewed information from a small number of interested parties. We have confirmed that some raspberry fruit extracts, which may or not be marketed as “raspberry ketones”, are outside the definition of a novel food, based on conclusions reached in other EU Member States. This is limited to extracts prepared using water or 20% ethanol (1:4 ethanol:water). These extracts therefore do not require authorisation as novel foods."
Source: Raspberry ketones (letter to interested parties) FSA 12 March 2014 [emphasis added by me]

but some are not...

"We have not received any other information that provides evidence of a history of significant consumption of raspberry ketones prior to 15 May 1997. We therefore remain of the view that raspberry ketones, other than the extracts mentioned above, are novel and fall within the scope of the EU legislation on novel foods
Under Regulation (EC) 258/97, novel foods and food ingredients may only be legally marketed in the EU if they have been evaluated and authorised under the procedures defined in the regulation, raspberry ketones have not undergone this process. Any companies who wish to market a novel food in the EU will need to gain an EU authorisation under Regulation (EC) 258/97. Such an authorisation would require the submission of a dossier to one of the 28 EU member states, demonstrating that the product a) does not present a risk to the consumer; b) does not mislead the consumer; and c) is not nutritionally disadvantageous compared with other foods that it might replace in the diet." Source: as above, 12 March 2014 [emphasis added by me]

But wait...

"This advice does not apply to the use of the chemical substance “Raspberry ketone” (4-(p-hydroxyphenyl)butan-2-one) as a flavouring. This compound is a permitted flavouring substance in the EU and small amounts of raspberry ketone can be used as a flavouring, in compliance with the EU Flavourings Regulation (1334/2008/EC). If used for any other purpose it would have to comply with the novel foods regulation." Source: as above, 12 March 2014 [emphasis added by me]

There seem to be three different classes of raspberry ketones
(1) Those that are a particular kind of water / ethanol extract
(2) Naughty raspberry ketones that can't be sold without authorisation
(3) The butan-2-one chemical compound

If you're buying raspberry ketones online or from Holland & Barrett (really, really don't bother, try and get your money back, there's no evidence that they can do anything for weight loss) then how do consumers know whether the product is being sold legally (though uselessly), or illegally as a novel food of unknown safety (also uselessly).

I had a look at the online Holland and Barrett shop page for Raspberry Ketones and didn't find any information about EU authorisation.

Similarly I've no idea if the raspberry ketones on offer from Groupon are being marketed legally or not. I've asked them to clarify.

Personally I don't think anyone should be wasting money on these products at all but if you do want to, how do you know which ones are "OK" to buy? There seems to be insufficient information for consumers.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Blogger users: if you don't hyperlink an URL it isn't linked on web browsers but *is* on mobile version

Occasionally I refer to a web address without linking it in the (now mistaken) belief that this doesn't give it any 'Google juice'. This is because by not hyperlinking (making it clickable) visitors can't click on it to go to that site, so there's no trail of clicks from my site to the site I'm mentioning and nothing for Google to index.

I do this for iffy websites that I don't want to link to but where I want to provide the information for people to be able to visit the site if they wish (they can copy and paste the address into a new browser tab).

However it doesn't work. When you're viewing this site on a mobile phone any unlinked address automatically appears as a clickable thing.

On a browser this looks like plain text
http://www.google.co.uk - I have not hyperlinked this one, but I have hyperlinked all other links in this post.

but on a mobile version it would like

(if you're viewing this post on a mobile you'll see both hyperlinked, check on a desktop browser to see what I mean).

1. Mangle the URL in an obvious way so that the reader can see what to do to in order to visit the page, eg http://www.goDELETEoogle.co.uk - click all you like, you'll go to the wrong place until you delete the word DELETE from the URL.
2. Use Do Not Link* http://www.donotlink.com/ to create a referring address which acts as a sort of protective wrapper so that Google, in indexing links on your site, indexes the referring link and not the real one.

*"Who uses donotlink?
Skeptics, bloggers, journalists and friends on social media use donotlink to link to scams, pseudoscience, misinformation, alternative medicine, conspiracy theories, racist / sexist blog posts, etc. without improving the search engine position of the site they are discussing."

I should add that using Do Not Link doesn't actively harm the search engine position of the site, which is something that has been mis-claimed by Lynne McTaggart (editor of What Doctors Don't Tell You) in wondering if skeptics are trying to damage the magazine's Google reputation by using this style of linking. This is not what's actually happening, by linking in this way we're not benefitting the site, but it's not otherwise harmful.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Tweaking the calendar months for alphabetic optimisation :)

Not long after posting this tweet (on 20 Dapril 2013) I adopted this strategy in earnest, for ordering some (not all) of my files - this lets me simultaneously order by name ( alphabetically) while ordering them by date, which makes me pretty happy. Though I do always giggle when I get to Haugust.

Visit the tweet on its page to see the replies that people sent me (the original problem I was having was within an Excel spreadsheet file, there's a fix for that but I also wanted something for Windows 'file manager' listings).

I can't believe it took me that long but here's how it's working for some ad hoc meetings notes for the Teaching London Computing project:

I've got the real date in there (which also opens the filename up to searching across folders) but the addition of the modified calendar month-name means they're in correct order. Pro-tip: use 01 etc for single digits otherwise I think 25 would come before 3 (depending on how your system's set up), but it's worth adopting this as much as possible as it seems to solve so many problems.

I wondered who else had come up with this idea and I can see that several fellow geniuses have also landed on this elegant and smug solution :)

A discussion on xkcd's 1179the comic "ISO 8601" (2 May 2013)
The cartoon itself is at http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/iso_8601.png

The tweets below are from 26 March 2009.

Not sure Ed has quite grasped the alphabetic feature being suggested but I like his idea ;)

International Date Format (30 June 2008)
Why do we have to suffer American dates (12 August 2007)

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Fun with promoted tweets - remember you can comment on them

The shortened version
The way Twitter handles threaded conversations means that any reply you post to a promoted tweet can be seen by anyone else, if you want to have a little bit of fun with particularly irritating and poorly targeted (and persistent) ones.

The post
I have used Twitter for six years and benefited hugely from it yet I've never paid them a bean. It would be churlish to begrudge them revenue and I wish them well in collecting it.

One of the ways I think they're doing this is to charge people to promote tweets - they've been doing it since at least July 2011. Note that I said people and not advertisers or companies. Anyone can pay to promote their tweet to a bunch of people. And they do, and some of them are ... well, a bit pointless.

Initially it was mostly companies promoting a product or service through Twitter but now it seems that anyone with less sense than money can join in.

Here are some that I've had promoted into my timeline.

None of them appear to be advertising anything (the last one has a link but it's just to a picture of a bit of plastic-coated wire). I suppose this is a modern-day calling card of sorts. 

Genuine company-promoted tweets are a bit different. Some are useful, interesting and relevant others are poorly targeted and there seems to be no way of avoiding them. Blocking the sender makes no difference as far as I can see, and replying to them rarely makes much of a difference, but doing so did give me an idea for some mild sneakery.

You can comment on promoted tweets
Thanks to the way Twitter threads conversations a tweet becomes part of a conversation once anyone replies to it. When you click on the tweet you can see most(1) of the other tweets that people have sent in reply. This means that, merely by replying, you can 'graffiti' a promoted tweet. Unless Twitter makes it so that promoted tweets can't have replies there's not much the company can do to stop this commentary - unless they delete that tweet.

To be honest I think this sort of thing should probably be reserved for only the really irritating tweets that are irrelevant and persistent - let's not all be mean to people who mis-send a tweet every now and again.
Do promoters understand this?
Having clicked on a few promoted tweets now (both from companies and people who seem to have promoted a tweet by accident), and seen the replies, it seems that sending out a promoted tweet can really open you up to some unpleasant responses. I don't know if Twitter is warning advertisers - I assume they're being told that their tweets are being targeted to relevant people but having received so many that are so off-target this system might need to iron out a few glitches. Mis-targeted tweets probably increases the unpleasantness of responses as people find these promoted tweets pretty irritating. The problem, for advertisers, is not just the unpleasant replies ('snark yes, unpleasantness no' would be my motto) but the fact that others can see the unpleasant replies thanks to threading.

Skeptical activism - an opportunity
This could backfire horribly. I got the idea from a disgruntled air passenger who paid for a tweet to be promoted to people telling them that the airline he travelled on had terrible customer service. About a year ago the Advertising Standards Authority adjudicated against an advert for a company that makes a tape that you stick to your skin to prevent muscular problems and injury. It's utter nonsense (aka kinesio tape) but the products sell well despite this. I jokingly suggested that a bunch of people crowdsource funds to pay for a promoted tweet that sends the link of the ASA's adjudication on kinesio tape nonsense to people on Twitter who mention the tape. Though I'd certainly not want the tweet to come from my account ;-)

(1) Twitter no longer shows the entirety of a conversation, you have to go on a bit of a hunt if you want to see branched conversations.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What I'm listening to today, the #Harkive project

The first tweet I saw today was this from Pete Paphides, followed by the second one.

I'm going to take part and will update this blog post today with the music and sounds I chose to listen to today, how I listened to it and why.

7.30am - first three minutes (instrumental) of 'Matthew the Man' by Iona, on YouTube viewed on iPhone. Link copied from desktop to Pocket, picked up on phone app - YouTube plays in-app it seems.

This is a song I discovered in a shop that had some awful muzak, but occasionally brightened listeners' ears with this track that reminded me a bit of Porcupine Tree. It was noticeably different from the other musical fare on offer so tended to stick out. Not that long ago I discovered that the only reason I ever heard it in the first place was because the shop was trying to stream music but the stream had failed and the device was playing this, its default track - so I learned a little bit about muzak infrastructure too. More about the Imagesound AHD1 here: If you've ever heard this piece of music in a chainstore this is probably why. - with some very nerdy comments.

8am - 9.30am - no music, having my gas meter changed and had Radio 4 (on a DAB radio* that I'm not that fond of) on in the kitchen. Off the top of my head I can't think of any songs about, or featuring, gas that I particularly like so nothing to report.

9.30 - well now I'm listening to Tracking the Lincolnshire poacher (see appendix below) cos I started playing it on YouTube. It is a bit spooky.

10.00 - and of course that reminded me of the spooky going on from the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, 'Alchemists of Sound'. It used to be on YouTube but isn't anymore, which is a shame as they've no plans to release it as a DVD (I asked 2 Entertain who deal with that sort of thing for the BBC and they said no).

11am-12.43pm - no music played, made the foolish mistake to try and tackle my work inbox but in the process I seem to have deleted almost all of my emails (all the ones that I'd carefully put into folders). Most irritating.

12.44pm - listening to Clannad's 'Robin the Hooded Man' theme tune for the ITV series about Robin Hood that was on in the mid 1980s. This was played in a background window on YouTube, next up is the theme tune for ITV's Sherlock Holmes series (example from The Musgrave Ritual). Last week I went to a rather good concert where they played some of the music for the current BBC Sherlock series, here's 'Redbeard' from Series 3.

2pm - trying to recover some lost emails so not listening to much music in a carefree fashion, but generally peeved ;) Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably Numb' was something a friend introduced me to when I was 12 at school. I spent ages listening to it on a cassette tape recorder device under my pillow (boarding school) and saving battery by rewinding the tape with a biro. My mum always told me I'd grow out of the music I liked as a child (this also includes Jean-Michel Jarre) but so far, no.

Didn't listen to anything until a bit of music was played at a meeting at 5.30pm, don't know what it was but can probably find out.

Heard a bit of piped music in Royal Festival Hall when I popped in there on my way home, then on way to ferry heard some live music (a singer and a guitarist, separately).

Back home, watching the film Made in Dagenham on BBC Four - enjoying the music for that. The last time I watched it I couldn't hear it cos it was so cold I had my small fan heater on :)

*other than televisions I have a constitutional dislike of presets and prefer to be able to take in the entire radio spectrum. I quite like finding oddities down the back of the broadcast spectrum though I've never actually heard one of the numbers stations (hear 'Tracking the Lincolnshire Poacher' below for more about these and their assumed use in cryptography / covert communications).