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

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Maximising your reach: Medical charities - If you answer public science enquiries, how do you share the answers with more people?

Every day I answer scientific / evidence-requiring questions from people with diabetes. I've done this for seven years, along with other colleagues in the Library and Information team (nee Science Information team). We have a huge 'database' of answered questions which we can draw on and update for newer similar queries.

In 2011 I'm hoping to find some way of getting some of these questions and answers 'on the web' so that others can search for them, read them and, ideally, comment on them. This may not be possible or feasible, for a variety of reasons.

I/We'd have to take time to pick out some suitable ones and make sure they're up to date before uploading them. How will we manage any follow-up enquiries that might arise from these questions and answers having been made public - assuming anyone reads them of course, but if they do, they may well have a related query of their own. How do you organise and index the information? Can people browse for all questions, is there an alphabetic listing or do people access the information via keyword search, and is the 'database' open to Google?

What about the risks of putting information on the web that can quickly become out of date? The team I'm in doesn't just answer questions, we do other things too (we provide statistical information to the rest of the organisation and train colleagues in the use of our intranet), and while we'd love to be able to have the resources to answer everyone's questions, we simply don't.

So... have you tackled something similar, and how? I'm wondering if other medical research charities (a) provide a direct or indirect enquiry service and (b) make the results available to the public? What problems might arise and how are these dealt with or pre-empted?

Note: I'm not talking about our main Careline service where people can chat with trained counsellors about anything that's worrying them about their diabetes or its care (we'll help our colleagues in Careline to answer some of the more sciencey queries, but theirs is a separate direct-to-public enquiry service).

Further background information
We don't currently have the resources to have a full-scale direct public enquiry service in our team, but queries that come in to any of our colleagues that require scientific / medical explanation or a search for evidence can be passed on to us to have a look at.

Over the years the enquiry numbers have dropped, probably because the internet makes it much easier for people to find information for themselves, and I expect this trend is common to many information services. I do wonder if people are getting really good information if they're not getting it from us (not to blow our trumpets or anything, but I think we're pretty good at finding things out and explaining it clearly), but critical appraisal of information found on the internet is a whole other blog post.

We reply either directly to the enquirer or to the colleague who originally took the enquiry. We keep our responses and refer to them for similar queries, but beyond that we don't make this content public, it's just one-to-one sharing.

I used to enjoy learning from the old NLH Q&A (ee also Wikipedia's mini article) which was similar in concept to our query service, but NLH's was for clinical questions from GPs. This was a large searchable database of enquiries which were speedily answered using the best available evidence - a good quality rapid response, but not a systematic complete answer (because the aim was to respond in a day or two). The questions were from real doctors asking about real patients.

Questions were not routinely updated and carried a warning to that effect highlighting that more up to date evidence might be available, but the information contained within the response was very helpful in signposting to further information. For example, if a reference is cited in a document written in 2007 the first thing you can do is have a look at more recently written literature which has cited that reference. Or, if NICE guidance was published in 2006 you can take an intelligent guess as to where you might go to see if it's been updated.

This wonderful service was run by Jon Brassey behind the equally fab TRIP database which makes all / most of these enquiries available and searchable by Google. If you work in the area of health communication you've probably already come across this database, which in addition to questions and answers links to a number (OK, loads) of documents which have been evaluated for their evidence quality.

Our query service isn't for medical questions from patients or GPs etc - we're not medically trained nor medical librarians but we can certainly signpost to other sources of information.

Apart from the potential problems with getting this information onto the searchable web, there are lots of great reasons to do it - and why I'm so keen. But I don't think it's sufficient merely just to dump a bunch of stuff on the web and leave it.

I suspect that the sheer range of enquiries that we have answered over the years probably exceeds the range of queries that any one individual would likely have, or come across. It would seem to be a helpful thing to make the info more widely available. I want people to be able to find information to questions that they didn't even know to look for.

Making Qs and As avaialable could increase the chance that someone with an even better response can contribute and improve the overall information. This might come from someone who has diabetes who can share their experience of something, but equally it could come from a doctor or pharmacist who might tell us about an information source that we hadn't known about. I can vividly remember the pivotal moment when I learned about the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) which lists every patient information leaflet inserted into the packet of medicine, as well as the much more detailed summary of product characteristics which was very useful for us. Similarly, finding out about the registers of clinical trials.

I shall add more of my thoughts here later, but a good film's just come on...

Thursday, 23 December 2010

How to unsubscribe yourself from a JISCmail mailing list

The quickest way to unsubscribe from any JISC mailing list is to send an email to listserv@jiscmail.ac.uk
with the message
unsubscribe LISTNAME

This instruction comes from the jiscmail FAQ
http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/help/subscribers/subscribercommands.html


I think you can also send an email to jiscmail@jiscmail.ac.uk with the message
unsubscribe listname --
(with the hyphens)

But you might not really want to unsubscribe...

On pretty much every mailing list I've been on someone will eventually send an 'unsubscribe' message to the entire list. This usually plays out with a few people explaining that they've sent the message to the list with others sending annoyed messages at the unfairness of it all. With all the bad feeling a few other people try and unsubscribe as well... and so on... but eventually it's all tidied up.

The next time this happens one of the mailing lists I subscribe to I shall point them to the jiscmail FAQ and this blog post!

I suspect that most people probably don't really want to unsubscribe, they just want to stop being annoyed by the endless loop of unproductive messages.

You can either send a message to the email address above instructing jiscmail to send you a digest of the posts (so you get one post per day for example) or you can suspend the sending of emails for a set time. The commands are:-

for a digest of messages
set listname digests (and to switch it off - set listname nodigests)

to suspend mail while on holiday
set listname nomail (to switch off - set listname mail)

Or, you can visit the homepage of your mailing list, which will have the following format
https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=listname

You'll need to log in with the email address you use for this mailing list - if you don't have a password for the JISC site you can create one.

Sometimes sending a message (by mistake) to the entire list can work anyway because the moderator will see it and delete you manually, but best not to rely on it in case they don't.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

How to get out of Blackheath - travel plans

I hate a dull commute and like to vary things a little in my journeys. Not that I'm really going to try and go anywhere while it's skittery and icy, and Southeastern trains probably aren't running anyway.

The nearest rail stations to Blackheath are Blackheath, Lee, Lewisham, Westcombe Park and Charlton - all of which go to London Bridge, Cannon Street and Charing Cross. In addition Blackheath also goes to Victoria.

Buses: 53, 54, 89 (&N89), 108, 202, 286, 380, 386, 422
(not a million miles away 472, 486)

[All buses mentioned in this blog post 15 | 17 | 24 | 29 | 53 | 54 | 89/N89 | 108 | 202 | 286 | 380 | 386| 422 | 472 | 486 ]

Blackheath - BKH
Local area map from National Rail Enquiries
Click on the links on the left hand side to see Bus stops in Blackheath village and click on Destinations to see the full list of places where Blackheath bus stops will take you, and whether or not day or night buses go there.
Full details for Blackheath, including train tracker, departures and arrivals.

There are also bus stops serving the Royal Parade area of Blackheath.

Lee - LEE
202 bus (a short walk from Lee Station) goes to Blackheath, past a Sainsbury's.
Local area map | Full details

Charlton - CTN
Local area map, again click on left hand side links for bus destination information and position of bus stops, and full details.
[Charlton rail station really has only one bus serving it, the 486 - the 380 bus stops very close by though].

There are also bus stops serving Charlton Village.

Lewisham - LEW
Local area map | Full details

Westcombe Park - WCB
Local area map | Full details

Railway maps for the UK, including London & South East

Example journey - getting from Blackheath to Camden.

Note that I tend to avoid the underground so that will add a whole layer of travel options that I've not included. I have done all of these journeys, but some of them are faintly ridiculous. I picked this journey because I do it most days, but also because it includes lots of opportunities for at least getting to the middle of town even if you don't want to travel all the way to Camden.

1. Rail and bus, with a tiny bit of tube
Blackheath > Victoria
Either go to Victoria and get the 24 bus (also goes past Westminster) - the stop is on the right hand side of the station after you walk out of the front entrance, or get off at Denmark Hill, walk across the road and get the 68 bus heading to Camberwell, stay on until Elephant and Castle and get the 168 all the way (also goes past Euston).

Blackheath, or other stations > London Bridge
The Northern Line will take you directly to Camden (and may the gods have mercy upon your soul, particularly between 8am and 9.30am). Or you can take the 17 bus to King's Cross and walk, or walk up to Euston and get the 168 or 253.

Blackheath, or other stations > Cannon Street
Bit of a palaver, don't really recommend it unless time is on your side and it's a beautiful day. Take the 15 to Aldwych, while admiring the more beautiful bits of London, cross the road and get the 168, or stay on the 15 to Charing Cross and get the 24 or 29 (longer).

Blackheath, or other stations > Charing Cross
From Trafalgar Square take the 24 and 29 which go up Charing Cross Road / Tottenham Court Road and Hampstead Road to Camden. Or, if you walk along the Strand to Aldwych you can get the 168 which passes Euston.
You can also get off at London Waterloo East and get the 168 from there, or take the 521 (it goes through a cool tunnel and drops you off in Holborn) and pick up the 168 from there.
(If you happen to want to go to Kew Gardens you can do so from London Waterloo East by transferring into London Waterloo mainline - all covered walkways).

2. Bus, underground and overland rail
Get to North Greenwich (by 108, 422 (from Blackheath / Royal Parade) or 472 or 486 from Charlton), then Jubilee Line to Stratford, then overland to Camden Road.

From Royal Parade area you can take the 53 or 54 to Charlton Village and then pick up the 486, or take the 380 to Charlton and pick up the 486 from outside Charlton. Once at Charlton station you can also walk to the next stop and get both the 486 or the 472 to North Greenwich.

3. Bus
The 53 bus travels from the Royal Parade part of Blackheath (does not go to the village) and passes through Deptford, New Cross, Elephant and Castle and goes as far as Westminster Bridge.

4. Ferry (better in the summer months)
Walk to Greenwich, ideally through the park, and float merrily onto one of the many Thames Clippers ferries travelling to Embankment (they also pass London Bridge and Canary Wharf on the way). Alight smugly, especially if it's a hot day and you've sat on the deck with the wind blowing in your hair, walk up to Charing Cross / Trafalgar Square and take the 24 or 29 to Camden. The ferries used to stop by Savoy Pier but this added smugness has been taken away from us and plain old Embankment Pier it is.

5. DLR
Lewisham goes to Bank or Tower Bridge as does Greenwich Cutty Sark (in the main covered shopping area). From Tower Bridge I'd take the RV1 which is actually the best bus in London, to Aldwych (more like the back end of Covent Garden) then the 168 and from Bank I'd walk or take any bus to London Bridge, or Cannon Street and start from there. To be honest, I'd probably give Bank a swerve.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Collaborative mapping of Greenwich's salt bins using Google maps

Today I rang Greenwich Council's Highways department (020 8921 5419) to find out (a) if they could grit my local pavements and (b) tell me where the salt / grit bins so that I could make a start on it myself, if feasible.

EDIT: I've since found this.
Greenwich Council FAQ "Where can I get rock salt for gritting my road or driveway?"
"You can buy bagged rock salt from your local builders’ merchant usually. We do not sell salt."

After being cut off twice I finally managed to speak to someone who read out a bit of a page of their website about the fact that the salt bins were vastly reduced in number because of budgetary constraints and vandalism. I asked if there were any near me and they managed to suggest one, admittedly not too far away but in slippy weather what's normally a ten minute walk can last a lot longer. Although they said the gritting team should be out in a couple of hours I'm pretty sure (from a look outside my window) that they haven't been. They were very helpful though and happy to try and find information for me, even though (as I discovered later) they weren't able to find the information I wanted.

I searched Twitter and Google to see if there was any better information about salt bins and spotted that @mysociety had tweeted about someone who'd created a Google Map for Sutton's grit bins and other #gritdata maps. Eventually, I managed to find the very PDF from which the council person had read bits of to me. Clearly they'd not spent much time familiarising themselves with the document as Appendix F contains the full list of local salt bins in Eltham, Greenwich (including Blackheath) and Woolwich. There are quite a lot of them, and plenty are near me. Why wouldn't someone specialising in the gritting of highways in Greenwich not know this?

Surely they could promote this data and encourage people to map it themselves - Greenwich is not short of community-minded nerds.

I decided I'd have a go at creating a Google map cos I've never created one before and it sounded like a good project. I tweeted that I'd found the information and @greenwichcouk got in touch saying they had thought about a Google map too. We collaborated (I have to say, I added really only about ten blue marker points, the bulk of the work was done by @greenwichcouk - EDIT, I have since done a goodly amount of Eltham ones) and the resulting map is embedded below, can be viewed and edited on Google, is on Greenwich.co.uk's site and that of Charlton Champion.


View Greenwich & Blackheath gritting: location of salt bins in a larger map

I'm very pleased with how it's turned out - it was nice to collaborate with someone local to create something that we hope others will find useful, if nothing else it reminds people that we can use data in interesting ways to benefit the local community. It would be nice to think that it might get used to de-ice the pavements though, and of course the next phase of the project is to find a shovel and get out there to my nearest salt bin and get shovelling.

Areas listed below in orange are mapped - instructions on how to edit are further below.

Eltham
CASTLEWOOD DRIVE BETWEEN 68 AND 70
WESTMOUNT ROAD OUTSIDE 118 (SHOPS)
WESTMOUNT ROAD OUTSIDE 148 (SHOPS)
ROCHESTER WAY JUNCTION OF GLENESK (NORTH) UNDER FOOTBRIDGE
COURT ROAD (SHOPS) JUNCTION OF PORCUPINE CLOSE
THE MOUND OUTSIDE LIBRARY WILLIAM BAREFOOT DRIVE
WILLIAM BAREFOOT DRIVE OUTSIDE 77/79
FOOTSCRAY ROAD OUTSIDE 404 SHOPS
FOOTSCRAY ROAD FRONT OF LIBRARY
FOOTSCRAY ROAD SHOPS OPPOSITE BEEHIVE PUB J/O BLANMERLE ROAD
FOOTSCRAY RD J/W BLANMERLE
FOOTSCRAY ROAD OUTSIDE SCHOOL OPPOSITE 327
BEXLEY SERVICE ROAD ON RAMP AWAY FROM TELEPHONE BOX OPP SHOPS
cannot find 'Bexley Service Road'
GREENHITHE CLOSE JUNCTION OF HAMBLEDOWN ROAD
NEWMARKET GREEN S/O P.O
SIBTHORPE ROAD OPPOSITE P.O
LYME FARM ROAD J/O WEIGALL ROAD
CRAITHIE ROAD J/O STRATHAVEN ROAD
HORN PARK LANE J/O UPWOOD ROAD
RYLAND CRES OPP 19 - it's Ryelands!
ALNWICK ROAD O/S SCHOOL
KINGS ORCHARD OP BOB HOPE THEATRE
ROCHESTER WAY ALLEY TO DUMBRECK
COURT ROAD J/O WOODMERE
ARCHERY ROAD J/O STATION APPROACH PATH
ALLENSWOOD ROAD NR J/O DUNBLANE ROAD
HEATHERBANK S/O 13A
GLENLEA S/O GLENHOUSE
GLENLEA S/O BEECHHILL
GLENLEA S/O BALKASKIE
OAKWAYS S/O 28
WEST HALLOWES 39
SPEKE HILL J/O BUCKLER GARDENS
CROCKHAM WAY OPP 10
HEVERCROFT 18
BROWNSPRINGS J/O DOMONIC DRIVE

Greenwich
FRANCES STREET, JUNCTION OF SAMUEL STREET (BOTTOM END)
FRANCES STREET, S/O L/C 17, JUNCTION OF SAMUEL STREET (TOP END)
FRANCES STREET O/S FLATS 289-393
SAMUEL STREET, OPPOSITE 118
ARTILLERY PLACE J/W REPOSITORY ROAD
WOOLWICH CHURCH STREET J/O CHURCH HILL
FERRY APPROACH, LB NEWHAM SIDE, S/O RAMP
CHARLTON LANE, OPPOSITE LANSDOWNE LANE
THE HEIGHTS, OPP 2
FLETCHING ROAD, OPPOSITE LANSDOWNE LANE R/O COOP
CHARLTON CHURCH LANE, JUNCTION OF THE VILLAGE
CHARLTON CHURCH LANE, OPPOSITE WELLINGTON GARDENS
HUMBER ROAD J/O DINSDALE ROAD PART WAYDOWN HILL
HALSTOW ROAD ON BRIDGE, JUNCTION OF HUMBER ROAD
STRATHEDEN ROAD S/O THE STANDARD PUB
BEACONSFIELD ROAD, JUNCTION OF BEACONSFIELD CLOSE
HYDE VALE, O/S NO 56
POINT HILL, JUNCTION OF WESTGROVE LANE
POINT HILL, JUNCTION OF WINFORTON STREET
CHARLTON ROAD, O/S SHOPS
CHARLTON ROAD, ON BRIDGE OVER BTSA
CHARLTON BROAD, TOP OF WESTCOMBE HILL
OLD DOVER ROAD S/O CHIP SHOP
PROSPECT VALE OPP 71 ON REDMAC FOOTWAY
INVICTA ROAD OPP 22 ON CONCRETE VERGE
RUSTON ROAD S/O POST BOX REAR OF FOOTWAY
VANBRUGH HILL OPP ANNANDALE ROAD ON WIDE FOOTWAY
RIDEOUT STREET IN CORNER ON BEND
CORELLI ROAD ON TARMAC VERGE OPP 48
WYNDCLIFFE ROAD OPP 26 IN FRONT OF GUARD RAIL
MAIDENSTONE HILL OPP DABIN CRESCENT
MAIDENSTONE HILL IN FRONT OF HEDGE OPP 14
KINVEACHY GARDENS J/O WOODLAND TERRACE
THORNTREE ROAD S/O 20
THORNTREE ROAD S/O LC 12 - one marker given for both 20 and 12
BRAMSHOT AVE JNC OF EASTCOMBER AVE

Woolwich
MOORDOWN J/W CONSTITUTION RISE
DONALDSON JUNCTION OF MOORDOWN ON ROUNDABOUT
MOORDOWN JUNCTION OF CONDOVER ON ROUNDABOUT
MOORDOWN JUNCTION OF ANKERDOWN ON ROUNDABOUT
EGLINTON HILL JUNCTION OF SHREWSBURY LANE S/O 93
EGLINTON HILL JUNCTION OF BRENT ROAD LINE UP WITH L/C
PLUM LANE OPPOSITE ROWTON ROAD
SHREWSBURY LANE JUNCTION OF OCCUPATION LANE
KENILWORTH GARDENS JUNCTION OF CROWNWOODS LANE
SANDY HILL ROAD JUNCTION OF CRESCENT ROAD
DURHAM RISE S/O WAVERLEY ROAD
GOSSAGE ROAD J/O GRIFFEN ROAD O/S FLATS
BUNTON ST S/O RIVERSIDE HOUSE
MANTHORPE ROAD JUNCTION OF VICARAGE PARK
DALLIN ROAD (TOP OF STEPS) S/O 45 - 47
NITHDALE ROAD (TOP OF STEPS) S/O 39 - 41
SLADEDALE ROAD NEAR JUNCTION OF LAKEDALE ROAD
BOSTALL HILL JUNCTION OF HOWARTH ROAD
BOSTALL HILL JUNCTION OF ROCHDALE ROAD
BOSTALL HILL J/O BOSTALL LANE
BOSTALL HILL ON BROW L.H.S
BEXLEY & GREENWICH HOSPICE
VIEWLANDS ROAD O/S 26
MASON HILL/ANGLESEA KERB SIDE
ELMDENE/BIGNELL S/O 19 BIGNELL
ELMDENE/WILLENHALL S/O ELMDENE COURT
CANTWELL/RIPON BACK OF PATH
CANTWELL/BRENT BY STEPS
CANTWELL/PAGET RISE S/O SNP LC 10
PLUM LANE /BRIINLOW (SOUTH) S/O SNP
PLUM LANE/BRINKLOW (NORTH) BETWEEN LC & BOLLARD O/S 3
DALLIN ROAD S/O 45
DALILIN ROAD /MAYPLACE LANE S/0 LC 4
NITHDALE/MAYPLACE LANE BY SUB STATION KERB SIDE
GENESTA / MAYPLACE LANE S/O 1 BY LC
GENESTA /WROTTESLEY S/O LC BY SNP
GENESTA VERNHAM S/O 75 VERNHAM
PLUM LANE/GENESTA O/S SCHOOL
ROWTON/ADMASTON S/O SNP COMMON SIDE
HINSTOCK/OVERTON S/O 33
UPTON/ENNIS BY RAILINGS
PALMERSTON/PLUM LANE S/O 43
BRAMBLEBURY/HEAVITREE LC 9
MAJENDI S/O 1
BREWERY ROAD/CHESTNUT RIASE BY POST BOX BACK OF PATH
PARKDALE S/O 98 BY SUB STATION
TORMOUNT.OLD MILL ROAD O/S CHURCH HALL
PARKDALE /SLADEDALE S/O 67
LAKEDALE/TEWSON O/S 137 BY WALL
PLUMSTEAD HIGH STREET/KENTMERE S/O 121
PLUMSTEAD HIGH STREET/BARTH ROAD S/O 141
PLUMSTEAD HIGH STREET/ BANNOCKBURN S/O SCHOOL
RIVERDALE/SAUNDERS S/O SNP
TYMOUTH/RIVERDALE O/S 58
WINNS COMMON / RIVERDALE S/O SNP COMMON SIDE
WINNS COMMON / PURRETT BY SNP
ROCHDALE / BOSTALL HILL
BOSTALL LANE / BOSTALL HILL
ROCKMOUNT / GROSMOUNT S/O SNP
HEATHFIELD / BASSANT S/O LC 1
GILBOURN / BASSANT S/O SNP
WARLAND / WELTON S/O LC 24

How to edit Google maps - you will need a Google account to do this
1. Open the link to the Greenwich grit map
2. Open in a new tab or window another version of Google maps so that you can search for roads without disturbing the map you're editing.
3. Check that someone hasn't already done the road you've picked by using Ctrl+F to find its name in the list (note that there is a PAGE 2 as well!), if it's not there, proceed :)
[Until I get around to re-ordering them, the most recently added is at the bottom]
4. Find the location of the road (and the relevant junction if appropriate) in the spare Google maps page, then in the grit map page use the zoom in / out buttons and grab and drag the map image to bring the relevant area into the viewing panel.
5. Click on Edit (which is at the top of the list of roads added, in the left hand side panel. A small panel of icons will appear, click on the blue placer mark icon to launch a floating marker which will follow your mouse.
6. Position the x part of the marker where the bin is located, wait for the little dialogue box to appear and place whatever Greenwich Council has labelled this bin in the larger window, writing a title in the top,
eg.
Bostall Hill / Howarth Road
BOSTALL HILL JUNCTION OF HOWARTH ROAD
7. Press Save and continue to add more if you're inspired, otherwise press Done.
8. Thank you :)

Thursday, 16 December 2010

A fail for #Southeastern and a micro win for Twitter

A couple of days ago I was at Charlton station hoping to get the 8.59am train into Charing Cross. Just ahead of that would be the 8.50 to Cannon Street. Neither train showed up and people began moving from the front of the platform towards the exit which is where the indicator signage is, in search of explanations. I can't be the first person to suggest that a second indicator sign further up the platform might be a help (they manage it at London Bridge and Charing Cross but perhaps don't bother with smaller stations... fair enough but then why not have it nearer the middle).

Anyone languishing at the top of the platform can sometimes hear a tinny distant voice that might be trying to tell us something interesting about a train. I've had the pleasure of listening to the results of a live recording of an Edison phonograph (at Dorkbot) and the quality of sound was better than the tannoy system at the top end of Charlton station. It's a lonely place to be, when no trains are appearing and no information is forthcoming so it's not too surprising that passengers were migrating to the station exit in the hope of seeing something. All we got from the indicator board was that the trains were DELAYED, but if you squinted your eyes at it it seemed as if one might be along in a bit.

On platform 2 a train came towards us (in the wrong direction, heading up to London as opposed to down to Dartford) and quite a few people looked like they might dash over to the other platform. The train sat there for a while and nothing much happened. The tannoy system by the exit is actually pretty good and we heard apologetic information telling us that there was a temporary signalling problem. After I tweeted that Southeastern's information sharing skills weren't up to much there seemed to be a sharp increase in the numbers of messages though I expect it was just coincidence. The messages were largely irrelevant though: it's illegal and dangerous to cycle on the platform, icy weather might make the platforms slippery and we should be mindful of our personal belongings.

At this point I'd sent messages to my boss and colleagues letting them know that we were settling into the comfortable Southeastern familiarity of uninformed immobility. I also posted a tweet or two in case anyone else was at the happy stage where they could cut their losses and try something different (like the 486 bus outside Charlton to North Greenwich, Jubilee to Stratford and the overland trains to Camden town, which is where I work).

Then someone tweeted that they'd been stuck at the level crossing just outside Charlton station on the up (London) line for the last 45 minutes. Given that the train that had come in on platform 2 had entered the station from the wrong direction this certainly made sense. I was about to tell some of the passengers standing next to me what I'd heard when I noticed a man talking to one of those on-platform Help points. It was a bit comical as the person at the other end wasn't familiar with Charlton and needed it spelled out just to be sure. Eventually he came back, on 'speakerphone', to tell those nearby that there was indeed a problem at the level crossing, but that it should be fixed within half an hour.

I've been to that level crossing, it's actually really rather beautiful with a lovely arch - you can get great shots from standing on the track area but best to get out of the way when the bells ring to indicate the gates are to shut for a train! It's just next to Maryon Park.

Shortly after the call finished the stuck train on platform 2 headed off in the correct direction, and a train appeared on platform 1. It added an hour to my journey and I think it's significant that the only information that anyone found out about (me by Twitter, fellow commuter by the Help point) occurred because commuters tried to find something out themselves.

Here's my complaint. I think everyone accepts, even if grudgingly, that sometimes trains break down and signals don't behave as they should. Stuff happens and it slows the system down for everyone with knock-on effects etc. etc. But it's pretty poor that no information is VOLUNTEERED to passengers. There's an electronic indicator sign and a tannoy system. Surely someone somewhere has a way of communicating with some sort of central office, and surely the driver of the stuck train or the person in charge of the level crossing was able to communicate this to that central office.

Why was the information we were given so irrelevant? Although it might come in handy if I see anyone cycling on the platform on an icy day.

Surely Southeastern staff must understand that they can gain a fair bit of good will by explaining clearly what the problem is and whether or not it's the sort of thing that has previously taken ages or over within the hour (or an unknown quantity). Even the person that the commuter called via the Help point didn't seem to have the relevant information to hand.

From other local blogs it seems that Southeastern have been strongly criticised - and not just by commuters I think Newsnight had a pop and the boss was summoned to Westminster - for both a poor service and worse communication. I can almost forgive a poor service - I wouldn't have wanted to run trains in during the snow either, but why not admit that nothing much was going to run and be done with it? Having cold annoyed passengers standing on platforms without any guidance is no way to go about things. V. poor, could do better, see me later.

In short, Twitter has so far been a very reliable indicator of what is going on with Southeastern trains and the same cannot be said of their website or other communication channels.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

How to read PDFs, and other docs, offline on an iPhone using Dropbox

Shortened link for this post is http://is.gd/hlKJC

Note - there are other ways to do this, I just happen to have used this one to save files to my iPhone. 


I was inspired to dig out the draft text of this post after reading a Facebook status update from my friend David Bradley aka @sciencebase recommending the service. As far as I'm aware Dropbox works perfectly on an iPad although I don't have one of those so can't confirm.
 

General guide to using Dropbox While I can't pretend to understand the minutiae of cloud computing Dropbox is an example of this sort of thing. With a free account (which gives you 2GB of storage space) you can access your files via the internet from any networked computer. But, and this is important, your files are also stored as a local copy on your own machine - you just need an internet connection to synchronise them with the online version.

On downloading the Dropbox software (I don't think it's very big) it will create for you a Dropbox folder within your own file architecture (you can choose where it goes) and you can start putting files in there. I have Dropbox downloaded onto my home and work computer and the files that I tweak on those computers appear, miraculously ready-tweaked, when I get into work and vice versa. If your internet connection isn't working and you make changes to a file it will remain on the computer on which you edited it, but it will be unsyncrhonised with your other Dropbox.

You can tell the health status of each file and folder as there's a little green tick next to any file / folder which is up to date and syncrhonised, there's a rotating blue icon to indicate one that's being updated and when you open a file to work on it will have a red cross next to it (you need to save and close for it to update). So if you want to try this go to http://www.dropbox.com/ (they have a video there you can watch to tell you more about the service), create an account and sign up.

And now a word from our sponsors :)

Anyone can sign up for free 2GB but if you know someone who already has an account ask them for their 'referrer link' which can net you an extra 250mb - @sciencebase's referrer link is https://www.dropbox.com/referrals/NTgzNTg5MDk (Disclaimer: he isn't actually sponsoring me, I just like that phrase - my referrer link's at the end of the blog I'm just giving him top billing as he inspired me to update my post).

'MakeUseOf' have written a free guide but I confess I've not actually looked at it as I'm very familiar with Dropbox, but here it is http://sciencebase.tradepub.com/free/w_make17/prgm.cgi
Edit: Originally I mistakenly said that David had written this but he let me know that it was another company so have edited the above sentence.

You'll need an email address and a (self-created) password to log in - once you've installed the software you won't need to log in to use your files on your computer(s), only if you want to use the web interface. The web version is good - you can upload and delete files (but to edit them you'd have to download, delete and re-add so better to use your Dropbox folder for that).

A very easy way to sign up, if you don't want to start from scratch, is to ask one of your friends to send you an invite to share a folder with them - this will lead you through the process quite nicely.

Dropbox on the iPhone
The iPhone Dropbox app is free from the appstore so all you need to do is download it and log in. Your files will then synchronise and you can read them online. It can open most things - I think it used to struggle with .rtf but that may have been fixed now. Most of mine are .txt, .doc, .ppt and it handles them fine. I can't remember if it cares whether it's .doc or .docx so you might want to double check.

For me, the big bonus is that you can open any file while connected to the internet and favourite it (using the star icon at the bottom of the iPhone screen). This means that if you need to access it in a low signal area you'll be able to. In the settings section (available from the app's start screen) you can set the size of your local storage (mine's 200MB but you can go up to 1GB). If you download the free PlainText app you can sync it (the default is a single PlainText folder but you can tweak it to sync with all your folders) and you can create new .txt documents on your iPhone - ie you can type something on your iPhone and then pick it up at your desk or at home. Nifty.

EDIT: I read a comment on one of Ben Goldacre's (secondary) blog posts which highlighted that this also works for .mp3 files etc. etc. Of course it does, why didn't I think of that??!!

What happens when you exceed your storage space?
I once did this - don't forget that if you share Dropbox folders with other people then all of the contents you share adds towards your 2GB limit and it soon adds up. No files were deleted but I couldn't save any edits or add new files until I moved or deleted some older files. My only annoyance with Dropbox is that it didn't tell me there was a problem until I was at 2.5GB and had it mentioned it sooner I'd have pruned some files with less stress. But all was fine, but it's not a bad idea to check periodically what percentage of your allowance you're using.

Be aware though, that if you delete a file on your computer it isn't permanently deleted - this is often a good thing if you delete in error as you can undo this. As far as I can tell, 'deleted' files may actually contribute to your storage space - you can log in to your web account and choose the option to show deleted files, you'll see them in grey. You're then given the option to delete these permanently. Deleting files is a two-step process which, in the long run, I think is no bad thing - but useful to be aware of in case your storage starts to rack up.

I've been using Dropbox since January 2010 and am very pleased with it - I am not affiliated with them or anything dodgy like that :) ...and my referral link is https://www.dropbox.com/referrals/NTQwMDAxMDQ5

Saturday, 13 November 2010

testing everystockphoto script





Apart from the fact that this is quite a nice photo I wanted to test this Everystockphoto widget. Seems to work OK.

Downloaded the image directly from their site and it looks like this

Monday, 8 November 2010

Tweeting - dot .@ and at @ messages

Edit 22 October 2011 - I added this info in table form (click to enlarge)



------------------------ Original post ----------------------------

(I wonder how Blogger.com will resolve the URL from this title...! )

Let's pretend I follow @HomerSimpson and @MargeSimpson and so do you.

If Homer sends an '@ message' to Marge such as

HomerSimpson: @MargeSimpson I'm hungry...

then both you and I can read it but other followers of Homer (who don't also follow Marge) won't see it unless they look at his profile page (ie the message will show up on Homer's profile page and is visible to anyone who looks at it, but it won't show up in his followers' twitter feed pages).

If Homer wants to encourage others to provide food he should write (note dot)

HomerSimpson: .@MargeSimpson I'm hungry...

and then ALL of his followers will receive it in their twitter feed.


Note the '.' character isn't important it could be any character that 'breaks' the @ symbol being the first character.

(It used to be possible to switch off an option so that you didn't see @ messages between Homer and Marge, then Twitter stopped this - the howls of outrage brought it back, unfortunately as something from which no-one can opt out, as far as I can tell.)

Direct messages
Putting D or d as the first character will send that message only to the recipient (the @ is NOT necessary) but you can only send a D message to someone if THEY are following YOU.

HomerSimpson: d MargeSimpson I'm hungry...

will go from Homer to Marge and no-one else.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

How to clean a loo bowl with vinegar or "without chemicals" for the hard of thinking

Shortened URL for this post is http://is.gd/gOFaJ

If you've got a bit of limescale in your loo bowl and you want a slightly sparklier version, try the following.

You will need
  • Gloves
  • Vinegar (I use distilled malt vinegar (clear in colour) from Sarson's, it's about 59p for 284ml but much cheaper stuff is available in bulk, I just get it from my local corner shop for convenience's sake).
  • Loo brush and / or old toothbrush (the plastic bit at the tip with the brush on is quite good for more stubborn limescale)
  • Cotton wool in strips, not the little balls but the stuff that is concertina-folded.
  • Small yoghourt pot type of vessel to remove water from the bowl (I use an old M&S container which had creme fraiche in it, and a smaller one which used to contain bicarbonate of soda).
  • Old sponge (optional, see point 3 below)
  • Bicarbonate of soda (optional, see point 6 - use for extra science fun)
  • Patience
The more limescale you have, the longer you'll need to leave it. For some areas you might need to do this process a couple of times or more.

Method
1. Don your gloves
2. With the larger of the two 'vessels' start bailing out the water in the bowl. You need to get the water below its natural water line (as that's where the limescale will start to build up) and if your limescale is present further down the bowl then you'll need to use a smaller container to get rid of it.
3. If you want to get rid of the maximum amount of water, use an old sponge to soak it up from the bottom.
4. Take strips of cotton wool and soak them in vinegar - I just hold them over the open bottle and upend a few times in different bits so that some vinegar can spread onto the wool pad. They don't have to be absolutely sodden (it'll only trickle out) but enough that it soaks the whole pad. You can split a pad in half to reduce its thickness but they tend to break.
5. Place the vinegar-soaked pads onto the limescaled areas pressing down firmly.
6. If you've removed all the water from the bowl and want to get limescale off its bottom then you can just pour it in neat. At this point I sometimes add bicarbonate of soda because it fizzes. I don't think it really contributes that much, but it makes it feel a bit more sciencey. Don't add too much though or the fizzing might make you worry that your bowl's about to explode ;)
7. You'll end up with a loo bowl that looks a bit like Father Christmas with a wispy white beard all around it. Leave it for as long as possible. Anything less than an hour is probably a bit pointless - a few hours is fine, overnight is better.
8. Remove and discard all the cotton wool.
9. Before flushing use the loo brush and toothbrush to rub off some of the limescale. Some will come off easily, some will need to be chipped with the plastic tip of the toothbrush and some will be very resistant to your efforts and may need a second application.
10. Flush once or twice.
11. Admire your sparklier bowl.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Nobel winner Barry Marshall and the unfriendly bacteria

This lecture took place in September 2010 and is now available online. I started typing up my notes soon after but have only got about half way through. Normally that would mean it would be ages before I finished and posted them as a blog post, but with my new 'let's serialise everything' plan I'm posting unfinished things and coming back to them later. Not sure when I'll finish it though, as I may have carelessly lost the remaining notes pages, oops.

Barry Marshall
'Past lessons and future opportunities for Helicobacter pylori'
UCL Prize Lecture, 20 September 2010

As soon as we started it was clear we were in for good-humoured fun - the audience was in a cheerful mood and I think it's safe to say we were a 'good crowd'. In number too, there was barely a spare seat in the lecture theatre. As I work at UCL I'm automatically on a list to receive information about our events - if they're public then I'll usually share them on my Posterous blog, but there's a listing of public events here. The event took place in one of the lecture theatres in the gorgeous Cruciform building, designed by the same chap (Alfred Waterhouse) who designed the Natural History Museum.

To start we had a brief introduction from someone who ran through Barry's biography, wryly admitting he'd got it from Google and Wikipedia, which got an appreciative chortle. We also saw a list of previous UCL medal winners, including a number I'd heard of.

As the introducer was about to hand over to Barry he tried to set up the presentation for him, struggling gamely with an animation of the 3D structure of the protein urease that was part of the powerpoint, and expressing amused irritation that the software wasn't yielding to his commands. Barry's 'I can do that', from his audience seat, got a welcoming giggle and he took to the stage.

Barry jokingly suggested that if you're going to make a Nobel-worthy discovery do it while you're young as it'll probably be a couple of decades before you'll get the prize. He and the team he was working with published their findings on the link between H. pylori and gastric ulcer in 1984, he won the Lasker Award in 1995 and the Nobel Prize in 2005. He showed us a rather nice cartoon slide of a couple of the bacteria - this was developed with a graphic designer and submitted to a competition at The Scientist (it's a finalist).

Around the time of the discovery there were a number of possible options for 'things that cause gastric ulcers', stress being thought to play a major role. No-one was terribly excited by the prospect of another possible cause, so the discovery seems to have arrived against a backdrop of 'meh'. Barry then put up a quote from Daniel Boorstin who said that 'the obstacle to discovery is the illusion of knowledge' - there was no particular imperative to search for other causes.

The impact on individual and public health has been notable, not to mention on lost productivity. He suggested the scenario of busy stressed executives with an ulcer being ordered by their doctors to retire early and take to a life of beach-ly leisure. More seriously, ulcers had a major cost impact and wrecked lives with several thousand deaths every year in the 1980s.

While there wasn't much impetus to find alternative causes for gastric / peptic ulcers bacteria were already low on the list of possibilities. The medical textbooks of the time held that the stomach, being highly acidic, was sterile and any bacteria introduced would be killed off. One of the reasons for acidity is to extinguish some newly met bacteria to 'sterilise' food and prevent gastroenteritis, but as we all know now the stomach contains many different bacteria which are considered essential for health. Extremophiles have also been discovered which include bacteria that can survive and thrive in conditions previously considered as unable to support life. Most bacteria are killed at pH4 and the stomach's acidity is at pH1.5 so it's not too surprising that bacterial infection wasn't considered as a likely candidate.

Barry showed us a slide of biopsies taken from 100 patients (quipping that they used 100 patients as they didn't have a computer at the time and so it made the maths easier) where 13 out of 13 patients with peptic ulcer had these twirly bacteria in their biopsies. I couldn't help but be reminded just a tiny bit of a certain struck-off someone who looked at the guts of children and drew some wrong conclusions.

He and a colleague tried to get this data into a meeting but were rejected - he showed us the rejection letter, and recommended that people kept theirs to amuse crowds in future. Apparently of 67 abstracts submitted the organisers could accept only 56 ;)

I missed an interesting aside into statistics, so forgive if this is a little bit wrong, but in the list of 100 patients they spotted that almost everyone with 'oesophagus abnormal' which is also known as acid reflux didn't have H pylori - the level of significance suggested thateliminating H pylori might increase the risk of acid reflux (but I might be wrong).

The next article he showed was 'An attempt to fulfil Koch's postulates for Campylobacter pyloridis' from Medical Journal of Australia, 1985. Koch came up with a series of tests, in the 1800s, in order to demonstrate that a condition had a bacterial cause. First catch your bacteria (from someone who has the disease you're studying), culture it, infect someone or something, wait for your disease to appear then collect evidence of bacterial infection.

This was the next step for H. pylori and Barry drank some (it turned out to be two Petri dishes' worth, someone asked at the end!) to show that they could survive and colonise in his stomach. He showed a biopsy photo which clearly illustrated an infection, and some pretty annoyed stomach lining cells. The infection was accompanied by nausea, vomiting and other gastric disturbances - I think he was fairly prompt with a course of antibiotics after though, so probably didn't have a full blown ulcer. He said he was surprised by how ill he felt - many people have asymptomatic H. pylori for (probably many) years before ulceration shows up.

His suggested explanation is that people acquire their infection in childhood, have a few days of being sick but then recover though the bacteria remain, ready to create ulcers at some future date.

It took quite a while for anyone to be particularly impressed by this and I expect that somewhere there's a seller of nonsense alternative therapies who mentions Barry Marshall in the same breath as Galileo as someone who was ultimately proved right.

In 1997 Abbott, who marketed a treatment for H. p took matters into their own hands and commissioned a cartoonist to visit Marshall's lab and create a storyboard. There was a fantastically lurid drawing of Barry holding a beaker of bubbling green liquid about to drink it saying "there's no other way" with a colleague looking on saying "you're crazy" (17m10s). The resulting cartoonified story was sent to a 150,000 doctors and was apparently very successful in convincing them that peptic ulcers should be treated with a course of antibiotics. Obviously I wondered about other uses of cartoons in communicating science, either in medical education or public engagement!

Apparently the bacterial solution was actually brown but the cartoon people had some involvement in "The Incredible Hulk" and went instead with green...



My l'esprit d'escalier question was "Why did people who had to take antibiotics for other things not notice their ulcer getting better?"

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Episode III of #IASBB evening event - beyond science blogging

I'm lucky enough to get to go to all sorts of interesting events at which I make lots of notes. The 'writing them up' bit doesn't seem to go quite as well so I've decided to work in harmony with my inability at this, and serialise my posts. Here's the third in the 'series' of posts about the evening event a couple of weeks ago (oops!) after the #IASBB, I'm a Scientist Beyond Blogging event.

Previous #IASBB posts were
At the evening presentations we heard back from the different groups who'd spent the afternoon looking at ways in which scientists might use the online world even more to engage with people, including being more politically involved, ie taking things 'beyond blogging'.

Alice Bell reported back for her group - they'd been looking at science and politics and how the two communities might work together. I think the British Science Association have or had a short-term placement scheme for MPs and working scientists but I don't know how many people could feasibly be accommodated on the programme.

Apparently the group came to the conclusion that we should all watch the West Wing - I expect there'd be uniform agreement with this as it's wonderful, I have the box set. So many great instances of affection for science and knowledge - possibly the episode that makes me swoon the most is 'Galileo' - rest assured, CJ "says it right" at the end.

The group also came up with the idea for some sort of online "Campaigning for scientists, for dummies" where scientists can pose questions, answerable by others. The Science is Vital campaign (and there'll be a future blog post at some point on the fab presentation by Jenny Rohn, Richard Grant and Shane McCracken) involved a steep learning curve for the organisers in terms of arranging the rally outside the Treasury. Lots of community input.

I think I missed the comment at the time but possibly it was Alok Jha who tweeted along the lines that science bloggers should get their posts onto places like Conservative Home and target other blogs like that, reaching a different crowd etc.

Finally, the group had discussed the notion of a science-specific campaign roadshow telling people about science and citizenship, and policy. I think there may have been ideas for a travelling bus :)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Abandoned Britain - half day nerd trips

Shortened link for this post is http://is.gd/gi6Gu

EDIT: 13 April 2011
Nerdytrips - the making of nerdmap (the map expands what's in this post to include the rest of the UK, world... etc.) describes what happens after Ben Goldacre posted "Nerdy Day Trips - tell us about yours, we'll build an archive #nerdytrips" :)

--------------- Original post --------------

A few weeks ago, Ben G asked Twitter followers for suggestions for a weekend half-day out. The suggestions were pretty interesting, and I have a file full of collected tweets from which I'm excerpting the relevant bits and pieces, as promised here.

It's occurred to me that this post is also a showcase for Google's capacity to search historic tweets. To get the URL for the original suggestion I've used Google's updates search facility (which currently goes back as far as February 2010 but is planned to stretch to the first tweet in March 2006). Using this method I've also picked up stuff that I didn't manage to collect the first time. For that reason I wish I'd used a different name as some of these suggestions are great but don't really fit within the 'abandoned britain' headline, oh well ;)

Sites that will signpost to other suggestions

Series 4, episode 4 (Dover to Isle of Wight) of BBC's coast features a piece by Neil Oliver travelling to Dungeness on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway, and Alice Roberts at Highdown/ The Needles looking at rocket testing.

On a very small scale of mild abandonment, I love the Terma radar (for the aircraft at City Airport I believe) to be found in a lovely but lonely part of Greenwich Peninsula

All the 'suggested by' links will take you to the person's original tweet - often worth a look as there's a bit more info there. Some of the suggestions may not have been entirely serious though... I'm also not sure about Lee / Lea although there's a florists in Lee (the one that's near Blackheath) which is called Fleurs de Lee :)

Miscellaneous (ie stuff I can't quite pinpoint)

  • "undeveloped area, north of the Thames, east of Tower Bridge" suggested by @anthropith
  • "deep level shelters in south London" suggested by @nathanbroon
  • "Have you thought about a trip on the Bakerloo line?" suggested by @mhoulden
Non-UK
  • "best railway graveyard ever is near the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia" suggested by @Jesssal
Previous edits
EDIT: 7 January 2011 - This morning @imaginarygf tweeted the following, which is a list of quirky museums in London, some of which I've been to. Don't think it mentioned the Hunterian in London but I am dashing out of the door....

"Oooooooo RT @aleksk: o boy o boy o boy... RT @LDN: London's quirkiest museums http://LDN.in/FPKovS (via @visitlondonweb) (hey! @bengoldacre)"

Saturday, 23 October 2010

"Bollocks Watch" - feedback to evening event at #IASBB on proactive science stories

Time for another teeny blogpost on #IASBB. I think serialisation of my blog posts is likely to work better in terms of me actually getting stuff down ;)

This follows on from my post yesterday although the discussion mentioned below actually preceded the discussion mentioned in yesterday's post. At the evening reception for the 'Beyond Blogging' event hosted at the Wellcome Trust by Gallomanor / I'm a Scientist we heard feedback from discussions at the afternoon sessions, which were looking at ways to engage people slightly more actively with science (and scientists ... with public) via online activities.

The first person to report back was Paul whose group had come up with 'Bollocks Watch', a sort of 'proactive version' of some of the sites already in place that react to bad science, such as Behind the Headlines. No slight towards BtH is intended by my use of the probably a bit loaded terms 'reactive' and 'proactive'. I'm a huge fan of BtH and use it frequently at work - even went to the celebratory party a few weeks ago.

I think I'd like to hear more about this Bollocks Watch - the more I write up these mini posts the more I wish I'd been at the earlier part of the event.

My first reaction was - is this really that new? Everyone seems to be addressing the terrible reporting of science in the news™ (I'm not sure if we've stopped yet to notice if it's got better, or if we just notice the bad stuff without remembering the good).

Working for Diabetes UK I do tend to notice any bad stories about diabetes, and health stories - it's my job to find out about what's going on and what people will contact us about. Well-reported clear stories probably don't generate as many calls or emails, or a response that requires a sort of Behind the Headlines explanation. I've also written on this blog (somewhere towards the back) that sometimes the article is fine and people just misunderstand something in it. I wonder what the situation is for science stories that have nothing to do with health.

Anyway - I'm not pretending by any means that all is perfect in science communication via the newspapers etc. And I'm pretty sure we're going to put on our website a guide to spotting terrible science reporting in the news fairly soon ;-)

Paul's group's aim was to counter misinformation arising from bad science reporting (am vastly in favour of correcting misinformation obviously) but more by being creative - generating a story and getting it out there, in the hope of replacing the bad story with a good one. This would involve having a recognised 'brand' and creating an active message of positive stories to 'make the truth better than the fiction'. Paul talked a little about the viral strategies used by 4chan and popbitch (I'm not familiar with these sites to be honest) and having a site where the public can rate reporters, publications and their content (yikes!).

As always I wondered how this might fit in with ventures already in place to address misinformation - I don't know of any that are actively retaliating by trying to get a 'more correct' version into the press, or if that would work. Presumably the initial press release (assuming it's not a fiction itself) is going to be telling a reasonable story (I know, I know) - I'm just thinking aloud how a bad story would be reversed by a second press release.

Are journalists / newspapers / BBC embarrassed by being cited in Behind the Headlines? Does it lead to the story being amended?

On the topic of the reporting of statistical information in the news I'll be interested to see what happens during @scijourntrain's analysis of training opportunities in stats for non-science journalists, and other resources - I added a comment to his blogpost here which I think is relevant.

Another reason why I hate DOI

EDIT 3 March 2011 - Ben Goldacre's just tweeted a link to CrossRef which seems to go one step further than resolving DOIs to a clickable link and resolves a citation to a clickable link. Useful.
------

A friend on Twitter wondered if anyone could get a particular article for them, and it seems I might. If only I could find it quickly.

Clicking on the link given takes me to this page
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010.09954.x/abstract

(Edit 3 March - the page now gives details of which journal and issue the article's published in).

but I need to log in using my account, which means that I'm working in a different tab with a different URL across the top and will have to drill into the different volumes to find it. Pasting that URL in doesn't work (tried it) as the fact that I'm logged in doesn't seem to transfer to that page even when opened within the tab that I'd been previously logged into. So drilling it is...

The information I need, now that I'm logged in to the journal's site, is which copy of the journal I'll find it in such as year, month and in some cases the volume and issue number.

The information given tells me that the article was first published online in July 2010, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's in the July issue.

I have absolutely no idea how to extract any useful information from the bit where it tells you how to cite this:
Tsang, M. and Guy, R. , Effect of Aqueous Cream BP on human stratum corneum in vivo. British Journal of Dermatology, no. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010.09954.x
I have never yet found an article using its doi.

There are other ways of finding the article - I can 'search within this journal' for the article's title or authors but I'm afraid that the purpose of the DOI system eludes me. It seems to present users with an unpleasantly alphanumeric string to type in (if reading something in print and wanting to investigate electronic versions) and doing so in Google doesn't (yet) take you straight to the article (why? WHY?), but if you paste it into a DOI resolver all will be well.

As a touch typist I can handle typing in pretty much anything, but you do have to attend a great deal more to something that complex, compared to a string of words.

I quite enjoy a search challenge and I'm 98% confident that I'll find it within minutes - obviously I'll have to stop bleating on blog posts first - but DOI SCHMEOI...

To be fair it may not yet have been published in the print version, making my bleat a little less relevant, although from looking on the site usually online first articles are print-published within two months.

Anyway... yes, I've found a PDF copy. Mutter mutter grumble.

Beyond blogging - science engagement online #IASBB

When I started writing this blog post a couple of days ago (procrastination!) I had just returned from a really inspiring evening at the Wellcome Trust's Gibbs building thanks to @imascientist who kindly put my name on the list for the evening roundup. Although I'd love to have gone along for the afternoon too as it sounds really interesting, but I'm more of an evening event kind of person I suppose. This was the evening reception for the 'Beyond Blogging' event.

While there we heard from a number of people - firstly there was feedback from each of the groups from the afternoon session (which I didn't attend), they had each discussed an aspect of science engagement online and were reporting back. I've made rather a lot of notes, and rather than completely fail to type them up all in one go (and then never get around to finishing which is my current blogging tactic) I thought I'd write it up in bits and pieces.

Then we heard from Jenny Rohn, Richard Grant and Shane McCracken with a fascinating day-by-day account of how the #scienceisvital campaign developed from a blog, some volunteers and momentum from Facebook, then Twitter and then - importantly - everyone else via email and word of mouth.

Finally we heard from one of the scientists and one of the teachers who'd been participants in I'm a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here! a while back and Sophia summed up with some pithy thoughts on online engagement.

The bit I wanted to talk about first was one of the five updates from the afternoon sessions. I think I should impress again upon anyone reading that I wasn't at the afternoon discussion and this is my impression of a brief reporting-back - so I might miss stuff.

I think the brief was that people would discuss several ways in which different communities / publics can engage / be engaged with science and scientists while taking things a little further than blogs, ie a bit more involvement and interactivity.

One example that intrigued me was from Jonathan (sorry, don't know his surname) whose group came up with the idea for some sort of database in which would be placed information about funded research in the UK. This would be open to the public, and people could monitor the progress of research and see where their money was going.

There are similar things in place for clinical trials. Trials can be given a unique registration number, which is used in published articles, and you can track its progress. I'm still always pleasantly surprised to see an NCT number in an abstract or article.

About a year ago I collected together 7 databases, mostly for clinical trials (medical research in people) and packaged them together into one URL via the Krunchd service.


Research databases and trials registers
- A non-comprehensive list of research databases, trials databases and other relevant websites.
rdb, research, database, trial, trials, clinical trials, register, registry, registries, registers, clinical, clinical research,
I think a database of other basic research would be rather useful. My question at the allotted time was 'who would input the data?'. I wonder if this might be a bit of a sticking point. Funding bodies, eg charities, have to provide some basic information about where they money's going - there's the requirement for an annual report, but most charities take this a bit further and take the opportunity to talk in more depth about the research they're funding.

This information will include the institution where the work is taking place, the names of the researchers, the title of the project, how long it will last and the amount of money put towards it. That's probably what would be needed (as a minimum) in any other database, but who would input that? The funders, the researchers, volunteers scraping data from these reports, or by accessing institutions' research grants databases (RDBs)?

Many charities, and I'm assuming other funding bodies, will use bespoke RDBs and it would probably help if the contents of each record could be exported in more or less the same way... presumably people wouldn't really want to enter the data into one database and then do the same again for the 'community database'.

Hopefully these are minor issues as I think the idea's a really interesting one.

Here are the words and phrases I wrote down while Jonathan was speaking:
lack of a database for projects, academics, open data community, wider civil society, document progress of a research project, link social media, deposit data sets, API for programmes to interface, 1,000 flowers bloom :)

The database sounds like the sort of thing that gets thrashed out over one of those hack weekends - fingers crossed it does.