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 gmail DOT com

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

Friday, 7 October 2016

Anti-anxiety apps - collection following a discussion on Twitter

Yesterday Caitlin Moran asked people on Twitter about apps that they use to help them with anxiety. I suggested WorkFlowy which isn't actually an anxiety-reducing app but a productivity one. However I do find that it's a great way to get things out of my head and stored somewhere else. It's a list-making app that lets you reorder, complete, delete, indent (and de-indent) list items and it makes my life so much easier that I think it could be considered within the genre of anti-anxiety! I use it much like Professor Dumbledore uses his pensieve.

Anyway I thought I'd collect together some of the other suggestions and post them here.

People take different approaches to managing their anxiety - there are mindfulness or meditation apps which focus on breathing or thoughts, others like to listen to white noise (it doesn't have to be hiss, it can be a clock ticking or rain) or music, some like to distract themselves with puzzle games like Tetris.

Other than WorkFlowy I've never used any of these and don't know if some of them might be able to cause harm as well as potentially making you feel better. I recommend being a bit skeptical about any health claims made. See also this article by Dawn Foster who found the experience of trying out mindfulness (and later the Headspace app) to be a distinctly unpleasant one, so these apps and techniques really may not suit everyone.

A few tedious* people poohpooed the idea of apps instead recommending getting outside or talking to actual people and that's fine for many, but not all.

Apps mentioned more than twice
Headspace (Twitter) "Headspace is meditation made simple. Learn with our app or online, when you want, wherever you are, in just 10 minutes a day" - mentioned 35 times

Buddhify (Twitter) "Remarkably good mindfulness-meditation app for iOS & Android. Made by " - mentioned 4 times

Pacifica (Twitter) - "Live happier. Daily tools for stress & anxiety alongside a supportive community. Available on iOS & Android" mentioned 4 times

Andrew Johnson (Twitter) "Meditation, Mindfulness, Relaxation and Stress Management Apps/MP3s. 11m downloads to date. Search for Andrew Johnson in your App Store." - mentioned 3 times

Calm (Twitter) "Join the Calm revolution and enjoy the amazing benefits of meditation. Our app and book will show you how:" - mentioned twice

Flowy (Twitter of its parent company) - a breathing focus app for people who experience panic attacks "Flowy: how a mobile game will combat panic attacks with kittens and robots" (Wired article) - mentioned twice

Stop, Breathe and Think (website) - meditation / breathing focus app - mentioned twice

SAM (website) - "SAM is an application to help you understand and manage anxiety.The app has been developed in collaboration with a research team from UWE, Bristol" - mentioned twice

Yoga Nidra (iTunes site) - yoga app - mentioned twice, yoga overall was also mentioned several times. There are also free 'yoga nidra' resources online, and other similar apps.

Other suggestions mentioned once
  • 7-11 breathing technique (variations to be found in Google search results)
  • Apps that lock you out of social media for a pre-set time
  • Booster Buddy (Google Play) - aimed at teens and young adults
  • Breathe (Apple Watch) - watch an enlarging and shrinking animation and breathe in time
  • Calm Down Now (iTunes) - claims to stop panic and anxiety attacks
  • Listening to music (as in actual music, not an app)
  • MoodKit (website) - mood improvement tools
  • Moodnotes (iTunes) - a thought journal / mood diary
  • MoodPanda (website) - a happiness tracking app
  • Noisli (website) - a background noise app
  • OMG I can meditate (website) - mentioned once but meditation mentioned 8 times overall
  • Plants vs Zombies 2 (website) - recommended by someone who enjoyed this "defeat the predators" game and its theme tune
  • QuilityApp (website) - mindfulness app aimed at parents
  • RainyMood (website) - relax with the sound of rain, thunder optional
  • Relax and Breathe (10 mins of watching the shape expand and contract, plinky music)
  • RespiRelax (French, iTunes) "RespiRelax vous permet de retrouver calme et détente en quelques minutes seulement et d’atteindre un état dit de 'cohérence cardiaque'" and, thanks to Google Translate that says "RespiRelax allows you to find peace and relaxation within minutes and to reach a state called 'cardiac coherence'" - last bit sounds like a dodgy health claim to me, as if it's claiming to interfere with one's heart rhythms!
  • Smiling Mind (website) - mindfulness meditation
  • Solitaire (the game)
  • Virtual Hope Box (iTunes site) - this app has also undergone a trial (data not yet published) about whether it can reduce self-harm among military personnel ( news website, website)
  • Wildfulness (website) - "unwind in nature and calm your mind"
  • WorkFlowy (website) - not an anxiety app, but a list / productivity app. It lets you type in new list items and reorder them (you can nest them as well). You can also use bold, italic and hashtags for easy searching later, and add a smaller-font note to any list item. I use it constantly both on desktop and phone and it's a brilliant way to manage multiple to do lists (I also use it at home for packing etc).
Other resources

How I made this post
To capture this information I searched on Twitter for to:caitlinmoran, went through the tweets and made a list of the apps mentioned, then used Ctrl+F to search on the page for each instance of the app's name, using the 'highlight all' facility. That let me estimate how often that word appeared on the page. You need to be a bit careful though as if you're searching for one of the apps, 'SAM', you'll also include anyone with that name.

*"seriously, can you just not", as they say. Whenever anyone asks a question about X on Twitter they invariably have to put up with helpful people answering that perhaps Y might be a better solution. I don't condone violence in general but consider yourselves the first against the wall when the revolution comes if this is how you choose to answer questions on the internet (unless there's a really good reason to do so).

Why yes, I did find preparing this blog post rather relaxing :)

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Independence Day Live at the Royal Albert Hall was incredible

I first heard the composer David Arnold talk at an event organised by the London wing of the Sundance Festival. He was appearing at the Art of the Score session and was being interviewed about his work which includes the scores for Stargate, Independence Day, umpteen Bond films, Stepford Wives and BBC Sherlock (co-written with Michael Price). He was good fun and I recommend going and hearing him talk.

A few weeks later I attended one of Mark Kermode's film music concerts in London and read the programme, discovered that it was part of a small UK tour and that the music from Sherlock and Stargate would be performed in Manchester a few days later. So I went along to that one too and, I suppose I've been been following "David Arnold's music on tour" ever since including concerts in Dublin, Lucerne and Prague. And lots in London.

When I started going to the Royal Albert Hall's series of live scored films I wondered if they might include something from David A's work and last Thursday they did, and I had the joyous experience of seeing Jeff Goldblum and co on a massive (20m screen) while the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Maida Vale Singers poomphed out the Independence Day (aka #ID4Live) music, conducted by Gavin Greenaway, produced by U-Live.

God it was great :)

I don't think I've ever smiled so much, or with so much anticipation, at a black screen - knowing that any minute now the auditorium will be flooded with sound. First up was the studio logo ident for 20th Century Fox which I think took quite a few in the audience by surprise. The music struck up for the beams of light swishing across the screen with the rolling drums, then the trumpets trumpeted and suddenly the audience seemed to clock on to what was happening and began clapping and cheering - you can watch a clip of that unfolding live at Instagram (I can't embed on Blogger for some reason)...

...and then we were straight into the film. With no subtitles! There was a pre-film interview between David Arnold and Tommy Pearson, the event producer, (he also interviews film composers at the RAH's Conversations with Screen Composers*) where they mentioned they were dispensing with the subtitles cos they didn't need them.

They were right and the sound - mixed by Geoff Foster from Air Studios - was unbelievable. There was much discussion at the interval on how great the sound was - with the on-screen dialogue, atmosphere and sound effects balanced perfectly with the in-room orchestra and choir.

It turned out that quite a bit of the music had been tweaked for the event and some had to be reverse-engineered to provide the orchestra with a complete score. Really quite a feat by someone whose name I'm sorry to have forgotten. I have a copy of the original soundtrack on my iPhone and it always makes whatever task I'm doing that bit more fun. Even more fun though in a huge auditorium with strange structures hanging from the ceiling (sound baffles I think, but when lit up they do look a bit like a fleet of alien spacecraft hovering) not to mention the entire Royal Albert Hall building looks exactly like the sort of landmark the film-aliens would try and blast.

Very unofficial composite image showing the logo for the ID4Live event superimposed on one of the original 1996 film posters for Independence Day with the aliens letting rip, above a screenshot of the Royal Albert Hall's homepage image, conveniently bathed in a matching orange hue.

Films often have a relatively such a short 'present' in screens and then are forever 'past', appearing on television and in retrospective screenings. I can't recall Independence Day ever having been a staple in the open-air cinema screening genre (in London at least), which puzzles me as it's such great FUN and the music is great. It is regularly screened on television though, but I've only seen it a couple of times on a big screen, and none as big as the one at the RAH.

So it was really lovely to witness it having a 're-premiere' and being part of a really big event. In fact it was simultaneously a premiere (first time ever performed as a 'live to projection' screening) and the 20th anniversary screening (the film was originally released in 1996). David and Tommy had commented that ID4 has a lot of saluting in it and encouraged us to whoop whenever someone saluted and we did and it was delightfully silly.

A few people broke the Wittertainment cinema code of conduct and took photographs of key moments in the film, and a couple even took short video clips. Amazingly no-one was thrown out for this but I'm quite glad they took the videos as it's lovely to relive these again later. I'm watching on fairly average laptop speakers and it still sounds great to me, see what you think with these clips. - Jeff Goldblum's realised that the alien signal contains a countdown and the spacecraft lining up is a bad bad thing. The music is properly menacing but you can still hear what's going on on-screen perfectly. - I think this clip happens just before the one above but is intercut with a different group of people in the film experiencing the 'what IS that?' moment as the spaceship appears. The person who made the clip said "This has always been my absolute favourite part of the score. It was so powerful bellowing through the arena. Such an incredible night."

Hopefully now that Independence Day has been added to the roster of films that you can watch with an orchestra (there's been an explosion of interest and enthusiasm for this way of watching films) it might get to do a little tour of its own, probably with me in the audience too :)

And how lovely to be able to sit in peace at the end while the end credits roll and hear that amazing finale music, with plenty more trumpets to enjoy and no-one from a television channel squashing the screen in half to tell me what's coming up later. Brilliant :) Thanks everyone who was involved in making this happen!

*Tommy will be interviewing Anne Dudley on Tue 15 Nov and Daniel Pemberton on Tue 29 Nov. He also produced Mark Kermode's concerts too.

The Barbican also has a series of Oscar-winning scores in which they interview the composer after a screening of the film for which they won. On 26th October it's Emma with Rachel Portman and on 7 Dec it's The Full Monty with Anne Dudley.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

UK regulators hot on the heels of homeopathy

This week UK homeopaths will have received a letter, from the CAP* Compliance Team, informing them that they need to have their homeopathy marketing material in order by 3 November 2016. They have been told explicitly that they cannot make any claims to treat medical conditions.
"We want to bring to your attention important information about the advertising of homeopathy which might affect you and which might mean that you need to make changes to your marketing materials."
         ...   ...   ...
"The ASA^’s current position, which was established through a number of ASA rulings, is that homeopaths may not currently make either direct or implied claims to treat medical conditions." [emphasis added, source: letter to homeopaths]
This affects claims made on websites and social media (for example tweets and posts on Facebook). The ASA and CAP have also been working with the Society of Homeopaths to develop guidance for their members.

After 3 November the CAP Compliance Team will "carry out extensive monitoring spot checks" and where necessary they can apply a range of sanctions including, ultimately, referral to Trading Standards.

It will be interesting to see if any homeopaths will be prosecuted for making misleading health claims.

As far as I'm aware, in order to bring a prosecution (ie take it to the courts) Trading Standards need to be able to satisfy themselves that there's robust evidence of a problem (the evidential test) and that the evidence has been collected appropriately. Also that it's in the public interest to bring the prosecution forward (the public interest test). Presumably, even once a prosecution becomes imminent homeopaths can probably avoid further action by simply agreeing to stop making misleading claims. Let's hope they have the insight to recognise this!

My own experience (with a team of other skeptic bloggers) of getting Trading Standards involved has resulted in one company shutting down and another company owner being prosecuted and fined. In both cases the result could have been avoided by the company owners not belligerently standing their ground.

Skeptic bloggers have been waiting five years (since online marketing came under the ASA's remit in 2011 and the Nightingale Collaboration began the process of getting homeopathy more firmly on the ASA's radar) for stronger action on misleading homeopathy claims and we'll be watching this unfold from 3 November with a lot of interest.

Personally I'd like to see Trading Standards tackle the misleading claims of CEASE therapy first which claims to eliminate / cure autism using a form of #homeopathy. One homeopath (Teddington Homeopathy) has been listed on the ASA's non-compliant online advertisers list since August 2015.

Incidentally it's good to see that Jennifer Hautman of Islington Homeopathy Clinic appears to have made her site compliant with the ASA's requests. In March 2014 she was also listed on the non-compliant advertisers page but her site is no longer there so I assume she made the necessary changes. Here's an archive screenshot.

Note this is an archive copy, Jennifer Hautman's Islington Homeopathy Clinic is no longer listed on the ASA's non-compliant advertisers list which suggests that she's since made her website compliant with the regulations.

In fact she took part in a workshop on how to market your practice while remaining ASA-compliant, so hooray!

Similarly Steve Scrutton Homeopathy (incidentally he does the media communications role for the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths) also appears to have made his website compliant as he's no longer listed on the non-compliant advertisers, but was in 2014. Here's an archive screenshot.

This is an archive copy. Steve Scrutton's homeopathy website is no longer listed on the non-compliant advertisers page.

*CAP = Committee of Advertising Practice (they develop the advertising regulations)
^ASA = Advertising Standards Authority (they uphold CAP's regulations)

The relevant announcements and files

Why do I block accounts on Twitter? What's the point?

by @JoBrodie, also cross-posted to my other 'How to do various Techy things' blog

I spent about 18 months periodically answering questions on Twitter from people asking if people you'd blocked can still see your tweets. The answer is always 'yes' and that hasn't changed. These questions were posed around the time when Twitter made quite a few changes to the way the block appeared to work, but the actual effect was very dependent on the app that you use to view Twitter.

If you try and view the tweets of someone that's blocked you from an official Twitter app (eg Twitter for iPhone) you won't manage it and it looks like the block is much stronger. But if you view on a third party app (Echofon for iPhone, Fenix for Android, Dabr for desktop) then you can see and reply to their tweets. And they can do the same to yours. So the block is app-dependent and doesn't stop anyone from being able to see anyone else's tweets. Plus everyone can log out and view them anyway.

So why block?

Keeping your follower list tidy / minimising pointless Notifications
This is the number one reason I block people (often reporting as spam before blocking them). Since I began using Twitter in 2008 I have regularly pruned the list of people that are following me or that interact with my tweets.

Everyone experiences phases when bots or fake accounts start interacting with your account. Sometimes they'll follow, but more commonly they'll favourite a tweet. This gets your attention in a fairly low-key way but it's annoying (notifications!) and I think it's important to report as spam and block so that Twitter can remove them. I know this can work because often (not always) when I check back later the account's been suspended.

Sometimes these accounts look extremely convincing at first glance but if you begin to see a lot of them you soon recognise their characteristics.

Incidentally I reported both those particular accounts for spam and blocked them but they're still there so Twitter disagrees with me (they are spam accounts but easily pass under the radar. One's not tweeted since April, the other not since July).

Once I posted something fairly innocuous about Afrezza (an inhaled insulin for people with diabetes) and began to notice unusual behaviour on the tweet and replies. They were being favourited and retweeted far more frequently than was warranted so I ended up blocking everyone involved just for some peace and quiet. It seemed to be some weird targetted thing where these accounts tried to boost anything Afrezza related.

Note 'egg-avi' means having an egg for the account's avatar / picture - while it's not a guarantee that an account is spam it's certainly a marker for it.

I've blocked (often pre-emptively) all of the Right Relevance accounts (there are hundreds of them). They favourite or RT your tweets if you mention a particular word that the bot is monitoring so you can end up with lots of tedious notifications (only on Twitter, I switched off the email thing years ago!). I consider them to be spam but they do provide a service of sorts, boosting tweets about a particular topic, which you may find useful.

Some accounts retweet genuine tweets, though never post anything of their own.

Here are types of accounts that I block and / or report for spam pretty much automatically
  • Egg avatar plus a name with a random string of alphanumerics 
  • Accounts that only retweet tweets, never post their own content
  • Accounts that follow 100 celebrities and me, or follow hundreds of people all called Jo
  • Businesses who sell 'widgets' who follow me after I've posted an unrelated tweet mentioning widgets
  • As a bonus, third party apps also tell you what platform someone is using to send tweets - this can indicate if a tweet's been sent using some automatic system

Herd immunity
Although blocking someone doesn't stop them from viewing your tweets it does make it much harder for them to see who you're following and who's following you, so blocking a spammer in this way stops them following others in your lists.

Blocking someone means you don't have to see their tweets if you don't want to
They won't be delivered to your timeline or mentions (in some cases you might see them if someone you follow retweets them). Muting actually does the same thing (if you don't follow them) and it has the added bonus of them not realising as they can still see your tweets. I think people use muting as a sort of fun passive-aggressive block.

Blocking someone stops them seeing your tweets
No, it doesn't - they can log out, use a spare account or a third party app. This is a bad reason.


How to get tickets for something that might be sold out

Where the boys spend their money.  Location: St. Louis, Missouri. (LOC)

There are plenty of ways of getting tickets (including free ones) to events that have sold out. Some of them rely on you being famous, beautiful, well-networked or more-than-averagely-confident (or rather, less easily embarrassed by asking for stuff) but here are some suggestions that depend less on your current personal attributes.

Consider the phrase "this event is now completely sold out" to be a fun challenge and adopt the attitude of my grandfather who, according to my grandmother, understood "No entry" signs to mean "come on in Andrew" ;) Be polite, but tenacious.

1. Ring the box office
Venues sell tickets online as do other third party ticket sellers. If either type of site is showing that the event is sold out it's worth ringing up and seeing if there are any that aren't on the system. I've lost count of the number of lovely conversations I've had with box office people telling me that there's actually a glitch and they do have a few tickets left. Third party sites with unsold tickets will usually return these to the main venue for resale so information online can be a bit variable and occasionally inaccurate.

If they've really, really sold out then ask about returns (i.e. purchased tickets that people can no longer use). Ask how these are resold (first come first served, out of a hat, returned to the online booking system for anyone who spots them, offered to the first person on the waiting list etc).

Ring back in a day or two and see if anything's changed.

2. Go by yourself or sit apart from friends
It's often a lot easier to get one seat than it is to get two next to each other. When a show is very busy you may actually find it difficult to get one seat on its own. If it's part of a pair (i.e. surrounded by booked seats) then the online system might not permit just one to be bought but if you ring the box office they can sort that out.

Minerva Theatre, Potts Point and Kings Cross, Sydney, May 1939 / photographer Sam Hood

3. Look for "win tickets to ..." tweets and newspaper competitions
If you're really keen you can set up a Google alert which will email you if certain keywords are published on the web, you can also keep an eye on relevant hashtags and the venue's own social media sites as they'll likely retweet opportunities to win tickets. If the event has sponsors it's worth seeing if they offer some freebies themselves.

4. Spare tickets
a) turn up on the day / ring the box office before the show
Sometimes someone in a group won't be able to leave work on time, or they're a bit ill and so people outside the venue might have a spare ticket that they're trying to resell. Make sure you check the date of the ticket before handing over money though. Some venues take a dim view of these kinds of ticket resales so I suppose you might find you're refused entry - generally this depends on the cost and level of security involved. Worth checking beforehand. Be careful about touts and inflated prices.

The box office may have returns, where someone realises they can't make the event and hands back their ticket for resale - make yourself known to the box office on arrival (hopefully you'll previously have rung them to let them know of your interest and to get yourself on any waiting list).

b) people offering tickets online
People can also post their spare tickets to things like Twickets (sold for face value) and they will also mention spares on Twitter etc. There are other organisations like Scarlet Mist and Stub Hub who match ticket sellers to buyers.

5. Have a blog and ask for a press pass
This one probably requires the most work as you'll have to already have a blog in place for this to be credible and it might be a bit cheeky if you don't then write about the event. The more "official" the event the less likely this'll work as they'll probably already have their own list of press people. But worth a shot.

6. The venue might release more tickets, put on more shows
Sign up to their mailing list, keep an eye on their social media, create an account with the venue to save time logging in (though in general I hate the whole account thing, but for this I make an exception).

Check the venue's website periodically to see if anything's been added. While writing this post I've just spotted that there are two tickets to #Travesties on sale for a performance at 3.30pm on Sat 1st Oct. Pretty sure they weren't available the last time I checked the site.

Sometimes tickets might be held back from general sale because someone (eg friends of the production team or a celebrity) have expressed an interest in one or more tickets but then may not be able to go, so the tickets can go on general sale.