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

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Mute, block, private - the three Twitter levels of peace and quiet, but not much else

The three Twitter levels of shushing people are

1. Mute

Muting someone just stops their tweets from appearing in your timeline. You'll still receive any tweet they send you as an @mention or a direct message. Muting is useful for temporarily shushing people who are live-tweeting an event that you're not interested in while keeping all other lines of communication open. They won't know they're muted unless you tell them.

Can you see their tweets? Only the ones where they've tagged your name
Can they see your tweets? Yes (unless they've muted you)

2. Block 
Blocking someone means you don't see their tweets. None of their tweets will be shown to you including their broadcast tweets and any tweet that mentions you. They also can't follow you or interact with your tweets. It is possible that you'll still see something of them if someone else that you follow retweets one of their tweets. All of your tweets are still entirely visible to them however, blocking just means they can't communicate with you on Twitter.

Can you see their tweets? Yes but on official Twitter you may need to click a 'view tweets' button (see first picture below)
Can they see your tweets? Yes, but it may take more effort depending on what platform they use (in second picture I've taken the screenshot from Twitter desktop which doesn't show profile, but Echofon on iPhone does).

What it looks like when you block someone, on Twitter



What it looks like when someone blocks you
(on Twitter, tweets visible on other apps!)


They may know they're blocked if they look at your profile on official Twitter sites (desktop or Twitter for smartphone / tablets) but might not notice if they're using third party apps.

Blocking someone does not stop them from seeing your tweets however and even if they're shown a blank profile your tweets will still show up in searches. You can see screenshots of what a blocked account can still see (I tested it with a spare account) here.

If you have blocked someone know that they can see your tweets by searching for from:yourname.

Think of the Twitter block more as a "continue to site" hurdle rather than "you shall not pass" barrier. Most apps still show a blocker's tweets to a blockee (even when logged in) and blockees can always search for a blocker's tweets (even if they're logged in), or just log out.

Rather unfortunately an awful lot of people have taken the "you are blocked from following X and viewing X's tweets" to mean that "if you block someone on Twitter they can't see your tweets", which isn't true. 

2a. The missing impossible level
This is the one that everyone seems to want - the ability to really block one or more people from ever seeing your tweets while making all your tweets publicly available to everyone else - but of course it's impossible. Anyone, if blocked, can use another app, use another browser or log out, or search for the tweets of someone who's blocked them.

It is impossible to stop someone from seeing your tweets unless you make your tweets private and trust everyone that you've allowed to follow you.

3. Private
This hides your tweets from everyone except those accounts that you've allowed to follow you. Your tweets will not show up in search results and tweets you send to people who aren't following you won't be seen by them.

Can you see their tweets? Yes
Can they see your tweets? No (unless you give them permission to follow you). Remember that your followers can share your tweets by manually retweeting them (comment RT) or by taking a screenshot (or, worst case scenario, having their account phished or hacked).

If you want to see how much people can infer from your conversations, even though they can't see your tweets, run a search for to:yourname or just yourname. In fact I'd recommend this to anyone with a private account.





Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Approximate aspect ratios for Google maps - post largely for me to be honest :)

This is a public memo for me for the next time I need a quick way to work out approximate aspect ratio reductions. Fiddling about with a Google map embed... it comes with defaults of 640 x 480 and no way to change it (other than by manually editing the underlying HTML code) and the preset was a little large for its purpose.

I played around with a calculator so that the larger number is about 1.3333 times the smaller one, maintaining an approx 4:3 aspect ratio.

Here's what I came up with. Might be of use to others hence sticking it here rather than just in a file.

w=640&h=480
w=530&h=400
w=400&h=300
w=320&h=240

Tempting as it is to put a big map on a blog post it rarely works well when viewing on a smartphone. Scrolling down often means you get stuck scrolling within the map, so a bit of thumb-space around the map is helpful.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

This mangled quote is rather pleasing though

Newspapers, quotes, misheard quotes - always entertaining.

Susan Greenfield described the mercurial nature of social media (one minute woohooing over a cute kitten pic, the next getting in a rage over some injustice) with the phrase 'yuck and wow' however it was mistranscribed as 'yakawow' spawning its own meme.

My favourite recent example of 'getting the quote wrong' might be this one, which I think I took from the Daily Mail or another tabloid newspaper. I can't remember what the story was but, knowing what the quote should be, I had quite a good giggle at this. I wonder how it happened - did the person giving the quote not know what the phrase is supposed to be, or did the person listening just summarise as best they could while not knowing the original either?



No. No no no no.

It's meant to be...

"It's not the cough that carries you off, it's the coffin they carry you off in."

Friday, 19 December 2014

How to take screenshots

A version of this was originally posted another post about capturing tweets.

How to take screenshots
On desktop computers people may want to INCLUDE the URL in the address bar but NOT INCLUDE their bookmarks. If so they can usually use the VIEW option in their browser to temporarily hide their bookmarks toolbar (and any other toolbars) to neaten the captured image. They can also resize the entire window and use the Ctrl+- (the Ctrl or Command* key plus the hyphen key) to reduce the size of the text on the screen. Ctrl++ (Ctrl / Command and the + key) to embiggen it again :)

*Command = for Mac keyboards

To take a screenshot on a Windows desktop PC or laptop
• Look for 'Print Screen' on the keyboard which is likely to be spelled Prt Scr.
• Press it to take a picture of the entire screen or press the Alt key first and then Prt Scr to take a snapshot of just the active window.
• This silently copies an image of the screen, or part of it, to the clipboard (it doesn't send it to the printer).

If you open Paint (free with Windows) or Word you can paste it in (keyboard shortcut is Ctrl+V). In Paint you can edit the image.

To take a screenshot on a Mac laptop

Note that 'Command' = the ⌘ key
Command+Shift+3     Capture the entire screen to a file
Command+Shift+Control+3     Capture the screen to the Clipboard
Command+Shift+4     Capture a selection to a file
Command+Shift+Control+4     Capture a selection to the Clipboard       
Source: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1343

You can use the Preview tool (free with Macs) to do some basic editing of the image.

To take a screenshot on an iPhone
Press the on/off button (at the top right) and the 'home screen' button at the bottom. This will copy whatever's on your screen to your camera roll which you can then email to yourself (private) or upload to image sharing services (public).

To take a screenshot on an Android phone (v4.0 and above)
Press and hold the power and 'volume down' buttons simultaneously - h/t @ErisianLib
More at http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to/google-android/3446798/how-take-screenshot-on-android-phones-tablets/

To take a screenshot on a Samsung S3 Mini
Press and hold the 'home' and 'on/off' (power) button simultaneously - thanks to @Jackpot73 for the info. 

To take a screenshot on a Windows 8.1 phone
Press 'power button' and 'volume increase/up' at the same time - info from @Flatsquid, thank you

To take a screenshot on a Sony phone
It's power and volume down simultaneously, according to @clangyandjammy - thanks






Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Things lots of people don't seem to know about Twitter - some Twitter myths

Over two years ago I rattled off a quick post about what happens when you block someone on Twitter. I didn't think a great deal of it after that but began to notice, from Google Analytics search logs (the search phrases that result in people visiting my site) that a lot of people are mystified by a variety of aspects of Twitter. That post has since gone on to be the really popular one on my blog (450,000 views says Blogger, 130,000 views says the more accurate Google Analytics).

Thanks to the latest change to the Twitter block I've been keeping an eye on tweets that include phrases like "they can't see your tweets" and have been a bit disheartened to see how many people seem to believe this. Quite a few have even declared that they can now "come off private" because no-one will be able to see their tweets. It's not true.

There are a lot of (actually perfectly reasonable) assumptions made about Twitter but unfortunately they seem to be mostly wrong.

I'll add more 'Twitter myths' here as I think of them. It concerns me that lots of people are blithely unaware that if they have a public account ALL their tweets (other than DMs) are searchable and embeddable in blogs and Storify stories etc. Probably very few of these people follow me (I've tweeted about 150 of them since the weekend) so it's hard work getting this info out. Tell your friends :-)

1. Blocking someone doesn't stop them from seeing your tweets
There are so many workarounds including them logging out, creating another account (things like Tweetdeck let you log in to multiple accounts at once), searching for your tweets, they can of course search for tweets from you and see the conversations you're participating in even if you make your account private.

A block on Person X just stops their tweets from being shown to you (you can still go looking for their tweets too). Every now and then Twitter changes its block function and a lot of people seem to think there's been an improvement. With the latest December 2014 if you visit someone's profile on desktop Twitter you're told that you've been blocked and can't view their tweets. If they search for your tweets they can still find them, or they can use a third party app like Echofon on iPhone which, at time of writing, is still showing full profiles.

It's possible that in the next few weeks Twitter will tighten things up so that (a) smartphone apps won't show profiles and (b) desktop searches won't show tweets from the person who's blocked you but I can't see a way round (c) them logging out. Even if Twitter insisted on people logging in to view tweets they could still log in with a different account.

Beyond making an account private I can't ever see a way to stop someone from seeing your tweets (and remember they can still see the other halves of your conversations).

2. Changing your Twitter handle doesn't stop people from finding you - blame conversation threading
I think this confuses a lot of people too. You change your Twitter handle and your previous one stops working. If someone visits the profile of the old account name it tells them the page doesn't exist. Anyone following you at the time of the change will be immediately 'transferred' to following you on the new account.

However if anyone has ever replied to any of your previous tweets then a 'thread' has been set up between the two, and this threading persists even if your name has changed. People can use this to find your new account. I've done this unwittingly by wondering where some annoying person has gone (usually an alternative medicine quack spouting rubbish and trying to avoid being challenged), failing to find their profile page then searching for any tweets I'd sent to their previous account.

In the search results on desktop Twitter (the best search interface) their old handle is no longer a clickable link (cos their page doesn't exist). But if you click on the tweet to unfurl it, and see the threaded conversation, then you'll probably see what their new Twitter name is. That's probably how anyone would have found your new Twitter name, if that's ever happened.

Possibly this will change in future. If you've blocked someone and then changed your name then at the time of writing they can still find you by searching, but if Twitter fixes its search so that your tweets won't show up to people that you've blocked then this could become harder. Though they could still log out or use a different account to check.

The only other way around this is to create a completely new account or delete ALL of your previous tweets (up to about 2009/2010 when I think threaded conversations were introduced).



Saturday, 13 December 2014

Twitter's updated its block function but nothing has really changed

It appears that Twitter has rolled out a new version of its block. If you view, on Twitter (desktop) or Twitter for iPhone (I assume it's similar for other smartphones), the profile of someone who's blocked you you'll get a message saying:

"You are blocked from following @Name and viewing @Name's Tweets. Learn more"

It looks like you can't view their tweets and suggests that if you block someone they won't be able to see your tweets either. This is incorrect.

If someone's tweets are public then anyone can view those tweets by using any of the following methods
(a) using a different browser
(b) logging out of the blocked account and using the same browser while logged out
(c) logging into a different account
(d) using a different smartphone app - at the moment Echofon for iPhone lets me see the profiles of a couple of homeopathy quacks who've blocked me
(e) search for their tweets (or if they're using a hashtag you'll still see their tweets there) on desktop Twitter or with Hootsuite / Tweetdeck.

If you want to ensure that someone cannot see your tweets you'd need to
(a) make your account private and

(b) be careful who you allow to follow you (is it them under a different name?)
(c) hope none of your followers get phished or hacked, or leak your information

Remember that anyone can see tweets sent to you (by searching for to:yourname or @yourname on Twitter dot com, search).

What does a block do then?
It's acts as a mute, it's really nothing more than that.

If you block me any tweet I send you won't show up in your timeline or mentions, so I am effectively silenced. You'll be able to go looking for my tweets if you want to but they won't be delivered to you.

If I look at your profile I'm told I can't see your tweets but I can use the methods above to see them, as you can if I block you.

Blocking someone doesn't ever stop them from seeing your tweets. It just means you don't have to see theirs if you don't want to (and they can't favourite or retweet you - well they can manually retweet you).

You can see all the accounts that you have blocked at https://twitter.com/settings/blocked

Read more about private Twitter accounts

Read more about Twitter blocks
What happens if you block someone on Twitter? What happens if they block you? (7 June 2012, updated 4 January 2014 and again today (12 December 2014).






Friday, 5 December 2014

Alexandre Desplat is film music concert-ing next Thursday at Barbican

by @JoBrodie, brodiesnotes.blogspot.com - cross-posted to the Sound stuff blog

Press play to enjoy a 11min sonic overview of the music of Alexandre Desplat including a short interview, by Tim Burden, then scroll down :)



Well now this is a good name for a film music concert! I might rethink the titles I give to my talks on diabetes research ;)

LSO on Film: The Magic and Majesty of Alexandre Desplat (link on LSO page)
with the London Symphony Orchestra
Thursday 11 December 2014 / 19:30
Hall, Barbican

Before the concert, at 6pm, there's also a free Q&A with the composer, hosted by the flautist / flutist / flute-player (LSO Principal Flute Gareth Davies).

Alexandre Desplat, whose name I can almost pronounce, is doing a concert of his film music next Thursday. He's done the scores for some very well-known films like Harry Potter, and The King's Speech (I felt that needed a comma given the style of naming films within the Harry Potter franchise) as well as some as yet unknown to me.

Two of my favourites from his work include Birth which also happens to be directed by Jonathan Glazer (I think he's amazing) who's just been announced as the Wellcome Trust's new Screenwriting Fellow, and Painted Veil.

It seems that Birth will be included among the concert pieces, woohoo - see the YouTube video at the end.
Programme to include music from:
  • The Imitation Game
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • The King's Speech
  • The Queen
  • Philomena
  • Twilight: New Moon
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring
  • Godzilla
  • The Ghost Writer
  • Birth
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Coco avant Chanel








Thursday, 4 December 2014

Twitter's block still seems to be 'security theatre'

Blocking an account never stops a person from seeing your tweets. They can log out (or use a different account) to view your profile.

Every now and again Twitter tweaks its block function. The most recent one that I was aware of was to separate blocking from reporting - they made it easy to 'no blame' block someone (if they look like a pretty irrelevant account that sells widgets and you happen to have mentioned widgets once) or to select from a range of options if you wanted to report a more troubling account.

In their 2 December 2014 post on improvements to harrassment, blocking and things like that they said

"Additionally, accounts that you’ve blocked won’t be able to view your profile."

I've asked the post's author about this... because I think it might lull people into a false sense of security.



To be honest this was how things used to be a couple of years ago and then, because* everyone would either just log out or view with a different profile Twitter let everyone see everything, so at least people would know that a block doesn't make any difference to someone's ability to see tweets.

(*possibly not because, it might not have had a causal relationship to be fair)

I'm not sure why this has changed again. My worry is that quite a lot of people will think that if someone they've blocked can't see their profile / tweets then they're 'safe' from that person seeing their tweets. I don't think this is true at all.

It would seem that there is no way to protect a user from an irritant seeing their tweets other than for them to make their account private (even that can be imperfect, see posts below).

An improvement might be to make it impossible to see any tweets without being logged in (but that doesn't solve the 'using a different account' scenario, and it doesn't seem to be what Twitter wants as it presumably it wants to share its content to draw in new users).

I'm basing my assumption about what people understand about Twitter and the block function from the search queries that bring them to my blog. A couple of years ago I wrote a post and have kept it up to date, it turned out to be quite popular and as far as I'm aware is still on the front page of searches for things to do with Twitter blocking (126,000+ people have viewed it) and as such I get to see an awful lot (13,000 searches) of people wondering what happens if they block someone. Most don't seem to understand what happens, which worries me.

What happens if you block someone on Twitter? What happens if they block you?
(7 June 2012, updated 4 January 2014)

How to view private tweets - and what to be aware of to protect your account
(7 December 2013)
In most circumstances you cannot view private tweets, but it's still quite leaky.

Don't assume that your private Twitter account is all that private
(7 December 2012)





Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Money (£500k) for charities from NHS England, to do self-care related stuff

NHS England has a pot of money that looks like it could be put to an interesting use

NHS England has launched the Realising the Value Programme, a new initiative which will empower people and communities to take more control of their health.

Through this initiative, NHS England will award a grant of up to £500,000 to a charity or not for profit organisation (or consortium) to identify evidence-based approaches to self-care. This programme will also support the commissioning and spread of such approaches, across local communities, and in the NHS, to empower people to take an active role in their health and care.

Interested organisations have until 9 January 2015 to apply for money from the Realising the Value programme. NHS England will be hosting and event on 8 December, in London, where organsations can come and find out more about the programme and submitting an application.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Guess who's doing more film music concerts in 2015? @DavidGArnold is, in Dublin, Manchester & Liverpool :)

Also cross-posted to my Sound Stuff blog.

tl;dr version: film composer David Arnold's doing three four film music concerts in 2015 in Dublin (Jan), Manchester (April), Liverpool (April) and Birmingham (June).



*****On 2 December 2014*****
On Tuesday 2 December David Arnold's being interviewed by Tommy Pearson in the Elgar Room at Royal Albert Hall, 7pm, £11.20. Tickets have now sold out but it's worth checking the website for returns, a couple appeared last week before being snapped up again (and also try the Box Office on 0845 401 5034).

David's score for the film Shaft is also due to be released by La-La Land Records on 2/12, the same day as his RAH interview. Also he wrote the music for Made in Dagenham the musical which is at the Adelphi until March 2015 - it's a joyous thing, go.

He's on Twitter @DavidGArnold.



Before we start, press play... (there are a few more clips from his concert recorded from an iPhone by Jack Chapple).



I really enjoyed his July 2014 concert at the Royal Festival Hall (YouTube clip above) and so did all the reviewers as you'll see in this post (full list of reviews I've found at the end). We heard music from films he scored early in his career (Stargate and Independence Day) and of course all his James Bond films, but also more recently his work (with Michael Price) on the BBC Sherlock series and a whole lot of stuff in between. He's been consistently brilliant :)

"What last night did was give an overwhelming sense of satisfaction to the audience and to highlight the versatile nature, talent and musical legacy that David Arnold has given us. I can only hope this is something that many others have the opportunity to see and listen to as he is one of the finest in the business and worthy of every bit of praise that comes his way after this London concert."
David Arnold Live - The Passionata Project

"While this event was a one-off, we hope that the composer has the bug for more, as his terrific music deserves to be heard live."
‘David Arnold: Live in Concert’ review - Cult Box
Good news - his London concert wasn't a one-off and he's announced three concerts for 2015, in Dublin, Manchester and Liverpool.

Dublin
Thursday 22 January 2015, 8pm
National Concert Hall, Dublin
€20-€45 (conc. €18-€40.50)
Tickets and info - Dublin

Manchester
Tuesday 14 April 2015, 7.30pm
The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
£26.50 - £44.50 + VIP packages available
Tickets and info - Manchester

Liverpool
Tuesday 21 April 2015, 7.30pm
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
£24.50, £29.50, £37.50, £42.50, £50
Tickets and info - Liverpool

Birmingham
Friday 26 June 2015, 7.30pm
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
£24.50, £29.50, £37.50, £42.50 & £75 VIP plus transaction fee (£3)
Tickets and info - Birmingham

Based on the July 2014 concert I think everyone's in for a treat again.

"The first half of the program appeared hand-selected to show off the eclectic nature of Arnold’s oeuvre. Immediately, the audience was bombarded with the heroic fanfare of his overture for the late ’90s space adventure Wing Commander. From there, the program ventured into the gorgeous, Barryesque gestures of Last of the Dogmen, the bluesy guitar of Four Brothers, the cool, understated majesty of his 2012 London Olympics Closing Medals Ceremony, the thundering monster movie heights of Godzilla, and the delirious, waltzy splendor of The Stepford Wives."
David Arnold plays his greatest hits in his London concert debut - Enjoy the crawl

Some of David Arnold's scores

"During this segment Mr Arnold unsheathed his “secret weapon”, singer David Mcalmont, who stepped onto the stage to perform Play Dead, a song made famous by Bjork. The shot was a bullseye. The target exploded. And the audience, including David Walliams, Mark Gatiss, Steve Furst, Amanda Abbington and Martin Freeman, roared with excitement."
Review: David Arnold at the Royal Festival Hall - beige

"The mood sobered briefly when Arnold assumed singing duties for a never-before-heard song from his upcoming stage musical, Made in Dagenham—a work about the late ’60s women’s rights movement in the UK. With lyrics written from the perspective of a wife and mother, this heartbreaking song was delivered by Arnold with all the passion and all the poignancy it deserves."
David Arnold plays his greatest hits in his London concert debut - Enjoy the crawl

"We enjoyed Arnold’s vocals again on the title track from The World is Not Enough, as well the unused ‘Only Myself to Blame’ from the same film, both songs written in collaboration with legendary lyricist Don Black. Arnold also performed a raw and pounding instrumental version of ‘You Know My Name’ from Daniel Craig’s debut Casino Royale."
‘David Arnold: Live in Concert’ review - Cult Box

Incidentally his work on the Bond films has also had a nice citation in the academic literature on film music: "Arnold’s music represents an elegant integration of broad orchestral statements, big-band inspired brass, electronica, and exotic percussion. ... He references the established Bond motives and gestures and, consequently, the scores sound like the contemporary continuation of a tradition. In short, Arnold fulfilled many of the unwritten rules of the Bond scores."

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 23.52.02

"The star character of this memorable event however was not 007, but undoubtedly Sherlock. It is rare for any contemporary television series to have such an imaginative and well written score, which when performed last night as an orchestral suite, captivated and invigorated the entire auditorium."
Review: David Arnold at the Royal Festival Hall - beige

So there you go, and go you should :D

Music
David Arnold's film and television scores on iTunes and Amazon
If you like film music concerts in general you'll probably like the Movies in Concert site.

Further reading
Here are the reviews for David's July 2014 concert.
Further listening
Over the next few days a couple of David's scores for James Bond and Hot Fuzz can be heard on UK terrestrial television - Die Another Day (10.40pm, ITV, Thursday 4 December); Hot Fuzz (9pm, ITV2, Monday 8 December & rpt 9pm, ITV2, Friday 12 December), Casino Royale (10.40pm, ITV, Friday 12 December).

Here's Tim Burden's interview with David on Soundcloud, shortly before the July 2014 concert







Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Cellfood DNA RNA, for when you're feeling undermethylated

Tesco have taken leave of their senses. Not only have they returned the 'health' magazine What Doctors Don't Tell You to their shelves but they've partnered with NutriCentre to sell all manner of supplements for no good reason.

One of the products - Cellfood RNA / DNA - claims that it can help your DNA become remethylated, based on the assumption that demethylation is behind aging and that this supplement can extend your life.

The claims are pretty outlandish, here's what I've done about it.

1. Complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (see below)

2. Written to Tesco to #askforevidence:
http://askforevidence.org/ask-for-evidence/5476516073657237d31e0000


3. Written this blog post to contribute to raising awareness about odd products being sold by Tesco via NutriCentre

4. Added the relevant sales page to ChangeDetection.com - this will let me see whenever a change is made to the page (it may be a while before I hear back from ASA or Tesco but this lets me know if the page is amended):
https://www.changedetection.com/log/tesco/287-0280_log.html


Original post
I'm putting together a complaint which I'll send to the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) later tonight about a particular product, which just seems to be quite silly.

It's also been suggested that in addition to the ASA complaint I do an 'Ask for Evidence' thing via Sense About Science. Who knows, perhaps a vial of methyl groups is exactly what I need. That would be ironic as one of the things I did in my past life as a lipid biochemist was in fact methylate things (turning fatty acids into fatty acid methyl esters 'fames' for analysis).

Had I known at the time how good methylation was for me I'd have tipped a bit more of the reagents over myself for good measure.

Edit 10pm
--- What I sent after doing a bit more research (red bits are what differs from earlier post) ---

I'm sorry to say I think this product is absolute nonsense and seems to have no redeeming features at all. I don't think it has any value as a health supplement, I don't know if it's likely to be particularly harmful though. It just seems pointless.

Claim 1
"CELLFOOD DNA RNA is the worlds first cellular regenerating formula combining nucleic acid bases (the essential building block on DNA and RNA) Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP - the master energy molecule) methyl groups (regulators and programmers of the aging process)and Cellfood."
- these are apparently the contents of the 30ml vial but I have no idea what form they'll be in once they're absorbed into the bloodstream (assuming that they are) or how they are transported into the nucleus where they might interact with DNA. Is the product supposed to increase methylation specifically or just methylate anything it comes into contact with? Were this product to really work then I think Tesco would be selling something that interacts with the genome - I can't help thinking this is quite a serious situation to be in. I suspect it doesn't really do anything though.

Claim 2
"Anti-aging - Clinical research indicates that biological aging is regulated and programmed by the gradual loss of specific DNA markers known as methyl groups. At the age of 25 most of us have already lost 10% of our DNA methyl groups. When there is a 40% loss degenerative death typically occurs."
- while changes in methylation do have a role in the aging process this text implies that insufficient methylation of DNA is 'game over' and that a grisly death will occur for want of methyl groups. I have some doubts that things are quite that bleak, and I also have serious doubts that the product will do anything to help.

Claim 3
"Longevity studies have shown that no single therapeutic method has increased lifespan more than nucleic acid (DNA RNA) supplementation."
- quite a bold claim, I'd be surprised if this is true or even that it's been demonstrated in human trials.

I'm prepared to consider that nucleic acid supplementation might be therapeutically beneficial in some cases (eg http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9178290, from 1997 - though very little information is given in that abstract), eg where a person is undergoing intravenous feeding, but I don't think this product does anything to extend life in otherwise normal healthy people. I'd also assume that this product would need to be administered under the care of a doctor. 

NB: Prof David Colquhoun is of the very reasonable opinion that this paper is also hooey, but I've not looked into the matter beyond searching for potentially feasible articles on nucleic acid supplementation.

Claim 4
"CELLFOOD DNA RNA provides the most important nutrient factors for improving DNA methylation which slows or stops the loss of methyl groups."
- Assuming this product can deliver methyl groups to the right spot (doubtful) does remethylating DNA prolong life or increase health? I am extremely doubtful on this and suspect that 'more research is needed' before claims like this can be added to supplement packs.

I'm honestly not sure if Tesco is joking with this product, but I don't think they're able to support these claims.

Thank you,
Jo





Sunday, 16 November 2014

London events - apps / websites / listings where you can post an event, find others

by @JoBrodie, brodiesnotes.blotspot.com

Listings where users can submit a London event include the following

Any event

Talks

Film music-related events (global but can be filtered by country / city)



Friday, 31 October 2014

UK Gov Statistics page has an 'upcoming' tab, ie a publications schedule

by @JoBrodie, brodiesnotes.blogspot.com



tl;dr https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics (look for the announcement's tab, which cleverly has its own bookmarkable URL https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/announcements - RSS / email alerts may also appear).



At some point every year various data / statistics collectors release the previous year's aggregated stats such as mortality rates (what everyone died of), QOF* figures, prescription costs (how much money the NHS has spent on X,Y and Z), various in-patient audits and they're generally predictable. Other reports are released quarterly, some on a more ad hoc basis, some are a complete surprise.

My favourite predictable stats info page is the Scottish Diabetes Survey http://www.diabetesinscotland.org.uk/Publications.aspx?catId=3

The HSCIC (Health & Social Care Information Centre) has a publication schedule (I'm interested in the ones to do with diabetes prescriptions and the national diabetes audits) and you can see on this page http://www.hscic.gov.uk/pubs/calendar what documents are due to be published, and when.

I asked the Gov.uk people if they might have such a thing for their Government publications page (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications) and it turns out they've recently launched something like this for their Statistics (though not other kinds of publications). Fair enough, it's a nice start. 

Published https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics
Yet to be published https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/announcements

Both are actually the same page - the 'yet to be published' is just the 'Upcoming' tab.

They also said that they're planning to have RSS feeds & email subscriptions (keyword search results pinged automatically to you via alerts) which I'm very pleased about, and had previously asked for.

I thought others might like to know :)

*Quality and Outcomes Framework which has a particular purpose (paying GP surgeries according to the numbers of patients they have who have had certain tests or interventions done, eg advice about stopping smoking, measurement of cholesterol, an HbA1c test for people with diabetes) and which by happy coincidence also tells you many people (over 17) have diabetes (other conditions are available but I work in diabetes charities so that's what I'm after).

Latest QOF figures were published on 28 October http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB15751 and they are published reliably in October every year http://www.hscic.gov.uk/qof

Monday, 20 October 2014

How to export your Twitpic pics

by @JoBrodie, brodiesnotes.blogspot.com

Updated 25 October 10pm - Twitpic pictures already there are safe, no new pics can be added
Twitter has taken control of Twitpic.com and all the pictures will remain there. You won't be able to add new pictures (see Section 4 for alternative) but you'll still be able to download your archive or delete old Twitpic pics. More at the Twitpic blog: http://blog.twitpic.com/2014/10/twitpics-future/

ACT QUICKLY - Twitpic is closing tomorrow and it takes a while for the service to return your download link (lots of other people are trying to do this too), go here and download your pics http://twitpic.com/account/settings (or if it won't let you, go here http://twitpic.com/ first and log in).

At time of writing (16:30 BST Saturday afternoon, UK time) pictures are now visible again on the site, I can see all 347 of my images http://twitpic.com/photos/JoBrodie - I don't know if this means there's been a reprieve or if it's just a temporary assistance for people who've struggled to download their pictures (see 800 million Twitpic photos to vanish from the web Saturday).


TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Twitpic is shutting down (yes it is, on 25 October 2014 - it isn't accepting new pics, old ones OK)
2. How to download your Twitpic archive - you can still do this (but no longer urgent)
3. Tell others how to download their archive (no longer necessary)
4. Alternatives to Twitpic for future picture posting
5. It's now after 25 October and I didn't know about this
6. Background reading


1. Twitpic is shutting down (yes it is, on 25 October 2014 - it isn't accepting new pics, old ones OK)

First Twitpic was shutting down, then it wasn't, now it is. We've got until 25 October 2014 to request copies of any photos posted there (remember you may not have posted pics there manually, but by having Twitpic set as the default photo handling app within whichever Twitter app you're using on your smartphone / tablet).




Your Twitpic page is easy to find (to be honest I think everyone has one by virtue of being on Twitter, something that initially puzzled everyone but we soon came round), it's
http://twitpic.com/photos/yourtwittername so mine is http://twitpic.com/photos/JoBrodie


2. How to download your Twitpic archive - you can still do this (but no longer urgent)

You can download your pics by clicking this link: Get your Twitpic pics, then logging in by authorising via Twitter, then scrolling down the resulting page (past Mobile, Privacy, Linked Accounts and Delete Account) to Export your photos, then click on the green button saying request your data - it looks like this.


Once clicked it will start processing and you'll see this - I don't know yet how long this will take (presume it depends on the number of your photos).


Quite a few hours later (I checked over a day later after seeing others' reports on Twitter) your account page (http://twitpic.com/account/settings) will look like this...


...if you click or right-save on the Download Now link on your page your file will look a bit like this (mine is deliberately mangled). It's a zip file.

http://s3.amazonaws.com/twitpic/photos/exports/26[000]0-[numbersANDlettersLOTSofThem]d0934b620c70d31[MoreAlphanumerics].zip


3. Tell others how to download their archive (no longer necessary)

If you want to be helpful / annoying, search for Twitpic on Twitter and filter it by people you know (you can only do this on Twitter dot com) and then tell them to do this.


4. Alternatives to Twitpic for future pic posting [workarounds]

An obvious place to start is to search on Google for Twitpic alternatives but here are some suggestions for computers and smartphones.

Twitter.com
If you're on the website it's very easy, when posting a new tweet, to click on the small camera symbol to add a photo from those already on your computer. Look, there's even 'Add photo' text, easy peasy :)



Flickr
It's free to use - I don't know if you can autopost to Twitter from Flickr but if not you can certainly grab the photo's link / URL and share it manually. Or you could use this IFTTT recipe to automatically post from Flickr > Twitter. Fairly certain you can also email a picture to Flickr so presumably once it's loaded it can autopost to Twitter if you set it up.

Tweetdeck
Like Twitter.com it has an 'add photo' button on the new tweet popup window so this would also work.

Google search results for Flickr auto post to Twitter

yfrog / Imageshack
I'm afraid I've no experience of these but found older info about them in a search for Twitpic alternatives. Apparently yfrog maintains view counts, however when I clicked on the relevant link (twitter.yfrog.com) it had turned into imageshack. There is a yfrog website but there's no Twitter login that I could see.

IFTTT - "if this then that"
See above (Flickr section) for suggested recipe with Flickr but I'm sure there are others available for other services.

iPhone apps (it's the phone I have, sorry if you use Android etc, dunno about those!)
On Echofon for iPhone on the version I have you can currently choose (in Settings) between Twitpic or Twitter, so pick Twitter. I suspect Twitter provides its own iOS app users with the same Twitter pic uploading service. Twitter-loaded pictures will automatically show as an autopreview in the tweet (you don't have to click to see the picture, it shows up already) whereas Twitpic never did this (often a blessing in fact!)

The embedded CameraRoll thing on your iPhone will also let you link up with your Twitter account, as will Flickr. In fact most apps that can handle sharing and / or pictures will let you share a pic to Twitter (the Vimeo app's good for videos to Twitter).

Instagram (not restricted to iPhones as far as I know)
You can autopost from this service, however I don't think it will autopreview though. I can live with that.

Other alternatives that I've seen suggested on Twitter but don't know much about include
• Mlkshk http://mlkshk.com/
• Mobypicture http://www.mobypicture.com/
• TwitrPix http://twitrpix.com/ (you can send photos via email http://twitrpix.com/faq#faq-3)
• imgur http://imgur.com/
• img.ly http://img.ly/

Non-free services
It looks like Mymeedia are canny entrepreneurs, introducing themselves on Twitter to people who've tweeted about Twitpic. From a cursory glance it seems that their service is a bit more bells and whistles than a basic pic uploader, but you may like to take a look. It seems to be more about displaying photos than attaching a single photo to a tweet but I'm sure you can do that too. They also let you email pictures in to the service.


5. It's now after 25 October and I didn't know about this, can I get my old pics?

All old pictures seem to be saved and will remain on Twitpic.com which is now owned by Twitter. Panic not.

Not sure, seems unlikely. I'd say 'doubtful' at this stage.

As far as I can tell Twitpic pictures are no longer visible on their original link. Here's a tweet I sent in 2013 and not only does the image not show in the embedded tweet below but it doesn't on its own page (http://t.co/5lvUDL08rr which resolves to http://twitpic.com/240uhz) either.


There don't appear to be any cached versions either (if you type the link into Google search, press enter, you can sometimes see a small green arrowhead pointing down, click on it for the cache, if absent, no cache).

There are other ways to view cached pages, including Archive.org but to be honest I'd be very surprised if anyone's photos were included here. I don't think it'll help but here's an old post I wrote on 'Finding things that aren't there any more on the internet'.

I suppose you could ask Noah Everett who created the Twitpic service: @noaheverett

Good luck :)


6. Background reading

Twitpic is shutting down post updated in October (4 September 2014) Twitpic blog (same as linked above).

800 million Twitpic photos to vanish from the web Saturday (24 October 2014) Global News



Sunday, 19 October 2014

Cancer Act 1939 convictions in the UK

You are welcome (encouraged!) to repost this. If you know of other cases please tell me, thanks.

As its name suggests the Cancer Act 1939 (legislation | Wikipedia) has been around for over 70 years. Until a year or two ago I was only aware of a handful of cases that had been tried under the Act with one or two convictions and fines but, thanks to an MP's question in Parliament, I've learned that there have been 21 cases brought under the Act since 1984 (I don't know how many of them resulted in a conviction and fine though).

This year alone has seen three convictions (that I'm aware of), which is quite surprising. Two were brought to court by Westminster Trading Standards and one by Essex Trading Standards.

Image from page 46 of "Nostrums and quackery; articles on the nostrum evil and quackery reprinted, with additions and modifications, from The Journal of the American Medical Association" (1914)


Convictions under the Act

Westminster Trading Standards, 2014
First and second cases
Trading Standards: cancer cure claims prosecuted (23 July 2014) Westminster Trading Standards
Article discusses two cases. The fine for the first case was £9,000, court costs £9,821 plus victim surcharge of £100 (total £18,921). Following an appeal it seems that this has been reduced to £4,500. The fine for the second case was £1,750 with costs of £2,500 and a victim surcharge of £120 (total £4,370).

First case
Harley Street practitioner claimed he could cure cancer and HIV with lifestyle changes and herbs, court hears (11 December 2013) The Telegraph and Bogus doctor claimed he could cure cancer using herbs, avocado and grape seeds (10 October 2014) ITV
Refers to the £4,500 fine received by Errol Denton (sometimes trading as Fitalifestyle Ltd / SeeMyCells) on appeal, which I've assumed is a reduction in the original but could actually be additional.
TS: Westminster Trading Standards

Second case
Bodybuilder turned Harley Street nutritionist fined for claiming he could CURE cancer with diet and fitness techniques (6 May 2014) Daily Mail
Fine, for Stephen Ferguson (of The Natural Health Clinic) fined £1,750 and ordered to pay £2, 500 costs and £120 victim surcharge. 
TS: Westminster Trading Standards


Essex Trading Standards, 2014
Third case
Man is fined after selling "cancer cure" which he made at home (15 September 2014)
Steven Cook was fined £750 and costs were £1,500. The fake treatment was colloidal silver. This was the second time he had been prosecuted by Trading Standards (the first in September 2013), more at Essex Trading Standards newsletter (page 3, p4 of 23pg PDF).
TS: Essex Trading Standards

Previous cases, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2002, 2000, 1995/6, 1994
'Miracle' healer who claimed to be able to cure cancer in £30 sessions fined £2,600 (15 March 2010) Daily Mail
Fine was £600 for Adrian Pengelly, costs £2,000 with £15 victim surcharge.
TS: Hereford Trading Standards

Dursley woman pleads guilty over ‘magick’ cancer remedy (3 August 2009) Stroud News & Journal
Fine information for Donna Sims trading as Herbal High Magick not given (she was given a two-year conditional discharge so perhaps no fine) but costs were £1,100. 
TS: Gloucestershire County Council Trading Standards.

Meeting with Cabinet Member - Communities (17 August 2009) Derbyshire County Council
A report on completed prosecutions under trading standards legislation which includes, on page 3 information about a company (Healthwize UK) fined £800 for breaching Food Labelling Regulations and claiming to cure cancer. A news report [Breaston firm fined for illegal claims (9 March 2009) This is Nottingham] suggested that the total fined was higher: £2,000 fine and £2,235 costs.
TS: Derbyshire County Council

Pill salesman convicted over £500 'cancer cure' (10 September 2008) Metro 
Andrew Harris, who sold Triamazon via the internet, was "given a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay £350 costs at Trafford Magistrates’ Court, Manchester."
TS: assume Trafford Council Trading Standards

Firm fined for miracle tea claims (16 October 2002) This is Wiltshire
Peter Goss of Health4All fined £5,000 with £2,688.50 in costs.
TS: Swindon Trading Standards

Big fine for 'lethal' cancer machine claims (7 November 2000) CWN (news for Coventry & Warwickshire)
Reports on company directors (Leslie Goodall and Guy Stanway of Plasmafire UK) fined £14,500 with additional costs (separately and combined as the company) under several pieces of legislation including the Cancer Act 1939.
TS: Warwickshire Trading Standards.

Trading standards prosecute after "cancer relief" claims (January 1996) HealthWatch newsletter #20
Report on a case from 21st November 1995, at Camberwell Magistrates Court. Southwark Trading Standards Service brought the case against a man (Rolf Gordon Dohm, company named Dulwich Health Society) who claimed his medical device (MagneTech) could be of use to people undergoing cancer treatment. Fine was £3,500 and costs of £200.
TS: Southwark Trading Standards

British company fined for falling foul of Cancer Act (15 January 1994) BMJ 1994;308:158
Fine was £500 and costs £3,500. Welsh company (Eladon Ltd from Bangor, selling Elagen), case heard in Whitminster. (Yes it's definitely Whitminster, not Westminster or other typo, I checked).
TS: unknown


Image from page 65 of "Nostrums and quackery; articles on the nostrum evil and quackery reprinted, with additions and modifications, from The Journal of the American Medical Association" (1914)


Cancer Act 1939 as a deterrent, 2014, 2012, 2009/10
As reported in a handful of blogposts it seems that occasionally Trading Standards will contact organisations and individuals and ask them to remove problematic words or phrases from their marketing material. This suggests that 'breaching' the Cancer Act 1939 results in a series of events before any court proceedings are begun, and that people / orgs who comply with initial requests from Trading Standards will probably not be fined as the case is unlikely to be taken further.

'Cancer - there is hope' seminars reported to Trading Standards (18 November 2014) Good Thinking Society.
Dr Francisco Contreras of Mexico's 'Oasis of Hope' clinic has planned three seminars in London, Milton Keynes and Manchester, cities which are are covered by their own local Trading Standards bodies. The events are being advertised by the cancer charity 'Yes to Life' and, after discussion with Newham Trading Standards (London), they have amended the event advert for London. Trading Standards for Hackney (London), Milton Keynes and Manchester have also been involved - more at the Good Thinking Society's website.

Flyer claiming supplement could cure cancer taken down and reported (31 October 2014) Ask for Evidence website, from Sense About Science.
Sense About Science's 'Ask for Evidence" website encourages people to do just that with info on how to go about it (politely). It also shares example and in this one a flyer in a leisure centre claimed that a food supplement could cure several conditions including cancer. The person who saw it reported it to Trading Standards and the leisure centre itself (which has removed the flyer). I don't know if there will be any further follow-up though as the person also mentioned they didn't manage to contact the company (the contact details didn't work).

Trader warned for making claims herbal remedy was a treatment for cancer (30 September 2014) Hackney Gov news
Ms Adenike F Omojola has a stall at Ridley Road market which had been selling Moringa Oleifera with claims to cure / prevent several conditions, including cancer. The product's websites (Modrosel .com & .co.uk) were asked to make changes to claims too,  and Greenwich Trading Standards also alerted as one of the websites registered there.
TS: Hackney Council Trading Standards 

The Brit witch doctors charging £3,000 to 'cure' cancer (16 March 2014) Daily Mirror
Added for info, no mention of Trading Standards. This appears to be an undercover report from journalist but does not suggest any criminal proceedings undertaken or even whether the case was reported to the police. Fatt-ha Grami from Streatham and Reza Moussavi from Liverpool both mentioned as being healers claiming to be able to cure cancer, for a price.

Caught in the Act (9 July 2012) WDDTY
Recommendations from Trading Standards resulted in the name change of a book from Cancer Handbook to Cancer Book.
TS: presumably Devon Trading Standards, but other trading standards bodies appear to have got involved.

Alternative cancer conference banned by town council (15 May 2012) The Healthy Home Economist
The article's author is highly miffed that a cancer-related event was "banned" and includes mutterings about medical fascism and the possibility of a grave-spinning Winston Churchill. See also Dangerous ideas of the doctor who defends baking soda cancer cure (25 March 2012) Sunday Express about the event, organised by Dr Stephen Hopwood of the Arcturus Clinic in Totnes. Dr Tullio Simoncini was due to speak at an event to launch the new Totnes Cancer Care Clinic but his claims that baking soda could cure cancer resulted in withdrawal of permission, by Totnes Town Council, to host the event at the Civic Hall.

The Cancer Act 1939 (date not obvious to me, assume 2009 / 2010) Cancer U Can blog
Indicates that the blogger was contacted by Trading Standards with a recommendation to make some changes to the text to avoid a £1,000 fine. The blogger agreed not to refer to cancer in a six week course they were running about the therapies that apparently helped them to recover and changed its name to 'Transforming Serious Diseases'.

Note that many people who respond to cancer-related queries from Trading Standards and amend their material will not show up in internet searches - these are the equivalent of the Advertising Standards Authority's 'informally resolved' cases. Anecdotally I've heard that some companies have stopped trading / closed their website, but I don't have any details on this so can't confirm.

Cancer Act mentioned but no cancer convictions, 2011, 2005, 2004, 1961
'Shaman' Peter Aziz jailed over psychedelic drug drink (2 September 2011) BBC News
Peter Aziz jailed for 15 months over the contents of a drink which contained a class A substance. He had additionally claimed his drink could cure cancer and had previously been investigated by Devon County Council's Trading Standards in 2006 [Trading standards 'cancer cure' probe (7 January 2006) Herald Express (Torquay)].

10 Year disqualification for cancer cure director (7 March 2005) M2 newswire
David Lee (company: Blue Water Partners Ltd also trading as The British Prostate Association) sold 'Prostectalin' for cancer without evidence. He was disqualified, by the Secretary of State, from acting as manager of a limited company for 10 years from 21 February 2005.

Asda fined for mango health claim (26 October 2004) BBC News
The company was fined £5,000 under Food Labelling Regulations 1996: 40 (1) and 44 but a charge under Section 4 (1) of the Cancer Act 1939 was dropped.

British Medical Journal - Medico-legal section of the 20 May 1961 issue.
"The fourth charge, of advertisement contrary to the Cancer Act, 1939, was found not proven: offending leaflets had been printed, but there was no evidence of their publication."

Non-Cancer Act convictions
Sometimes cancer is mentioned in the reports but the prosecution or conviction wasn't done under the Cancer Act 1939.


Other possible breaches, 2012, 2011 Obviously it is up to a court to determine if someone has actually breached the Cancer Act 1939 but it is usually fairly obvious if someone is skating a bit close towards that point.

Undercover probe exposes church offering cancer cure (15 August 2012) Hold the Front Page
No Trading Standards involvement in this example (Victorious Pentecostal Assembly) but the article mentions that the claims made could well be illegal. There are a number of churches which seem to skate close to the CA1939 including those offering miraculous healing oils, miracle mineral solution (now known as master mineral solution - basically bleach). See also on this story: 'Miracle healing': Nigerian pastor lands trouble in UK (22 September 2012) Just Believe blog

Ofcom mulls smackdown for rogue religious TV channel: Ribena is not the blood of Christ and won't cure cancer (23 August 2011) The Register
"Ofcom also points out that anyone watching Believe TV is probably quite gullible, or, as the regulator puts it: "the self selecting audience of Believe TV ... may have been less likely to question the potentially harmful and exploitative content broadcast"." - no mention at all of Trading Standards involvement however.

Cancer Act-ivism
Shark cartilage in the water: effective legislation is already in place but is not being properly used (9 December 2006) BMJ
"I have now made successful use of this legislation in relation to patients who have used cancer therapies that have been advertised in both the complementary health sector and by registered medical practitioners associated with a registered pharmacy."

Further reading
New treatments for cancer need careful study. There is no evidence that a vegan diet cures patients (14 December 2014) Sunday Business

Comments on this post
I am no longer adding further examples of these almost-identical generic comments despite receiving between three and five a day of them as I think their purpose (which is to help people be aware that they're spam comments in case they come across them elsewhere) is served already. Anyone trying to leave a comment of that nature here, with promises of miracle cures and whatnot, has been pre-cursed by me and will experience dreadful pains before a lingering death. It's only what you deserve ;) Mwahahaha.



Saturday, 18 October 2014

How I prepare presentations for giving talks

by @JoBrodie, brodiesnotes.blogspot.com

This post was originally published as Communicating science face to face – public speaking on 26 April 2009 on my sciencediabetes blog. I've updated it for this blog because I've given a couple of talks this year and am giving another one in a couple of weeks.

The post was written from the perspective of giving talks to supporters while working for a major health charity - I think it's fairly generalisable, but you may want to bear that in mind. All of the below works for me and is how I prepare for my talks. It's not meant to be prescriptive :)



Table of Contents
1. Have you got enough time to prepare the presentation?
2. Who is your audience?
3. Watch out for acronyms and jargon
4. Is a PowerPoint (or equivalent) presentation appropriate?
4a. On-screen references to articles
5. Telling a story, with or without PowerPoint
6. Analogies, metaphors and explanations
7. Storing the talk for transfer
8. Rehearsing the talk
9. Polishing the presentation
10. Tidying up your computer screen / desktop
11. Getting to the venue
12. Feedback

As part of a previous job I was occasionally asked to give presentations on the diabetes research that the charity I worked for funded. I always took this as an opportunity to do a spot of face to face science communication which I enjoy.

I thought I’d share my way of putting a presentation together, in case it’s useful. Although I enjoy giving talks I do get (though I don’t suffer from) the typical nerves beforehand and a lot of my preparation is intended to minimise anxiety by being as well prepared as is humanly possible :)


Image from page 21 of "Catalog of stereopticons, motion picture machines, projection apparatus : manufactured and imported by the McIntosh Stereopticon Company" (1915)

1. Have you got enough time to prepare the presentation?
A couple of weeks’ notice sounds like plenty of time but may not be sufficient to manage your time for other work – I’d rather say no to giving a talk than turn up with a half-baked presentation.

2. Who is your audience?
I want to talk about things that are definitely of interest and hopefully of relevance to as many as people in the audience – something for everyone really. Where I previously worked had a number of voluntary groups (support groups which also raise money for research) around the country and if there was a project happening at a local university I would try and include some information about that.

Also if the audience is likely to be a predominantly older crowd then information relevant to children may be less appropriate (though of course some of the audience may have children or grandchildren with the condition [in my talks for work it was diabetes, Jo] so nothing wrong with mentioning it). Similarly a talk to teenagers might focus more on research into future technological developments in diabetes.

3. Watch out for acronyms and jargon
Many of the people in my audience would have been familiar with diabetes jargon however they may be accompanied by friends or partners who aren’t so it’s worth including an explanation for someone who knows less about diabetes.

In updating this post in 2014 I'd want to add a bit more about jargon. It's not the obviously incomprehensible words and phrases ('mean amplitude of glycaemic excursions') that's the problem as they announce themselves as something that you do or don't understand. More insidious are words like model or theory which have everyday meanings as well as more precise ones in science.

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

4. Is a PowerPoint (or equivalent) presentation appropriate?
For the sort of talks I give, yes but sometimes telling a story is all that’s needed. I want my slides to do two jobs – underpin my talk’s structure and also to act as an adjunct to what I’m saying.

I try not to put too much information on the slide – but I need enough to remind me what it is I’m talking about (I don’t like speakers’ notes or reading from a script!) and for the audience to have something to look at.

My general rule of thumb is to divide the number of minutes I’m to speak (typically 40) by two to get a ballpark for the number of slides. I’ve most recently given a fifteen to twenty minute talk with seven slides (the first was just a title slide). I might spend longer on one or two slides than others but generally avoid speaking about one slide for less than a minute or more than five minutes. It varies.

4a. On-screen references to articles
You might want to include a reference to a paper or website. Unless your slide will be visible for long enough for people to note down the details I'd recommend using the minimum info needed to find it again. This might be of the type 'Bloggs 1995 Salient title keywords Journal title' rather than 'Fred Bloggs (1995) A long and fascinating treatise on all the words used in titles everywhere Journal of Clever Studies'.

Similarly great long web addresses are awful to try and write down quickly, it's more helpful to give people a shortened link - ideally one that's been customised to form an easy to read word. Even better, if you have several links in your talk put them all on a single page on your website and use the link to that page in your slides. This makes it much easier for people to find your info later, and less for them to write down.

See more at Please make your links friendly (6 October 2014)


Image from page 164 of "Catalogue of stereopticons, dissolving view apparatus, and magic lanterns :with list of several thousand artistically-finished views for the illustration of all subjects of popular interest : manufactured by T.H.McAllister ... New

5. Telling a story, with or without PowerPoint
It’s a lot easier if the talk has a logical structure and narrative as it’s easier to link between slides and makes the presentation less disjointed. I do spend a bit of time in the ‘editing phase’ trying to make things flow and I will make significant changes to a pre-planned running order if necessary. Sometimes I’m going to talk about entirely separate topics in which case I’ll just make that clear by actually saying, explicitly, to the audience that I’m now going to talk about something quite different.

This can ‘refresh the palate’ of everyone (including you and gives an opportunity to have a sip of water) by changing the pace a bit - but it also acknowledges that what they’re seeing and hearing is different.

When people hear talks, however fantastic they might be, their concentration can waver, particularly if the talk is happening at the end of the day, in a warm room with the lights lowered. If they’re ‘rejoining’ you after a moment’s zoning out it can be disconcerting to find the speaker talking about something else if they’re not sure how it linked to the previous information.

I think it helps to orient people during the talk (it helps me too!), for example something along the lines of “so we’ve heard about W and X and how that leads to Y, let’s now consider Y’s role in leading to Z” – basically a “you are here” guide.

6. Analogies, metaphors and explanations
I’m talking about complex science / medical things to people who understand all sorts of other complex things but which might happen not to include science or medicine. In other words don’t dumb down.  Ignorance of a topic just means that you don’t know about something, not that you’re stupid. There are plenty of aspects of the topics in my own talk about which I’m ignorant too.

People have different backgrounds and experiences and it's helpful to try and find some common ground. Think of something that your audience is likely to be familiar with, start with that and then introduce your concepts. Start where they are, not where you are.

7. Storing the talk for transfer
Are you going to be working on your talk up to the last minute and bringing it with you on your laptop? If so make sure you bring any VGA adapters ('dongles') for Mac laptops and know how to connect your device to their projector.

Alternatives are to email the talk if it's not too large (if it's huge and you have to send them a link to a download page make sure they've downloaded it in advance of your presentation as the room you're in might not have internet). USB sticks (memory drives) are standard fare, in earlier times I've used CD-ROMs and of course overhead projector acetate sheets. If your slides are going to end up on someone else's network and possibly published make sure you've sorted out copyright of any images.

Main stage of the Palais Garnier, Paris

8. Rehearsing the talk
I really only feel confident about doing a talk if I’ve rehearsed it a minimum of three times before delivering it – I have no idea if this is normal! I want to become very comfortable with how it flows and not be surprised by anything on the day. Clearly I’m not going to be surprised by the slides themselves, as I’ve written them, but in the process of rehearsal something might occur to me that makes me want to edit the running order or the content.

Rehearsal, for me, isn’t just about getting the ‘performance’ right, but about making sure the content makes sense. This is also the time for me to make a note of what I think people might ask questions about and make sure I can either answer them or am able to signpost them to where they can find out more.

I always practice the talk from a computer, ideally one set up to a projector (we had this facility where I worked) as this is likely to be more similar to the actual talk situation. It’s important to me to have the slides appearing behind me so I can get the ‘stage directions’ right for the talk as well – I may need to move towards thescreen  to illustrate something by pointing at it (I prefer to go and point with a finger where possible but this depends on the angle of the projector and whether or not by doing this you’d block the picture out! Laser pointers are good though) and then come back to the laptop / computer to advance the presentation to the next slide.

I will happily do paper based practices, and on a computer without a projector attached of course but really prefer to do at least one ‘final’ version on a projector. (When I did presentations on overhead projection facilities using acetate sheets then I focused on practising with paper as it was more similar to the real-life scenario).

Image from page 32 of "The little pruning book; an intimate guide to the surer growing of better fruits and flowers" (1917)

9. Polishing the presentation
For longer talks, once I’ve run through the entire presentation a couple of times and have created the ‘patter’ that goes with it, I record myself giving the talk so that I can listen to it later. I use the voice memo function on my iPhone. Possibly this is ‘overkill’ but I like to hear where the talk is flowing well and less well and make mental edits to the talk for later.

By the end of this process I know the substance of my talk off by heart but I don’t have a formal script – I’m not a fan of scripted talks. I have all the phrases I’m likely to use at the front of my mind but the exact words will vary of course.

The final thing I like to do is to print out my slides (and to save paper, I print them as handouts so I can get 2 or more on a page) and go through them to make sure that I know, for each slide, the slide that comes before and next to help with linking between slides. It’s easy enough to put up a slide and start talking about it, but I think it’s nice to be able to introduce the next slide from within the previous one. This is usually the last thing I do, typically on the train to the venue (a lot of the talks I used to give were in the evening), which brings me nicely to my next point.

10. Tidying up your computer screen / desktop  
If you're going to be using your computer be aware that people might be able to see the names of files you have on your desktop. It's possible that some might be confidential so have a glance at your computer before the talk and check. The quickest way to remove your files from the desktop is to create a folder and shove them all in it. Or you might try this more creative approach...



11. Getting to the venue
Image from page 253 of "The street railway review" (1891)

Obviously this bit isn’t specific to giving talks, and works for any kind of meeting where you have to go somewhere else to have it!

A minimum of a week before the talk I’ll have confirmed the details with the person organising the meeting, googled anything I need to know and found answers to these questions.
  • who is the audience? [I've usually asked this earlier as it will also determine the talk content]
  • what day and time is the talk?
  • what train station do I need tickets for – any info on which exit to choose? (Yes, I have been standing at exit A with the person fetching me at exit B in a mobile-signal desert)
  • where is the actual venue (postal address and any bus info or taxi instructions?
  • what hotels are available nearby?
  • what are the train times like?
I’ll also have with me, on one or two pieces of paper, any maps (of the venue, the directions to the hotel) and details of train times and contact details of anyone I’m meeting.

After all that I’ll have a nice sleep!

12. Feedback
I've never formally evaluated the types of talks I've given but feedback comes in many forms - including people asking questions during the talk or staying behind to ask afterwards. Lots of people have told me that they've enjoyed one of my talks or have understood something better - but I'd have to assume the people who thought I was rubbish or that my talk made no sense left without saying so ;) I've never had anything disastrous happen but in all cases I've been well-enough prepared to be able to talk for at least half an hour without any props and the knowledge that I can do this is a reasonable confidence boost.