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

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Blog stats for this blog part 7 (27 December 2015)

Every year I post the blog stats for this blog, and this is my seventh year of doing so. I do it in case other people might be nosey :)

The most interesting thing about the stats for me is always the vast difference between Blogger's pageviews (1st column in Table 1) and Google Analytics' (3rd column in Table 1). This is generally understood to be because Blogger counts every 'hit' including Google's indexing crawlers and not just real people. I've also included the number of people visiting each month (2nd column), to my knowledge Blogger doesn't provide that info. Odd because Blogger 'is' Google. See explanation below for what numbers in brackets or coloured red mean.

Table 1: Blog stats, by month, for 2016
Month              Pageviews (Blogger)      Visitors (Google)         Page views (Google)
January (7) 35,092 7,421 8,466
February (1) 27,505 6,671 7,668
March (4) 31,880 6,704 7,602
April (3) 25,857 6,041 6,877
May (2) 37,151 5,173 5,923
June (5) 29,389 5,669 6,550
July (2) 35,874 4,842 5,578
August (4) 30,244 4,957 5,877
September (0) 25,266 4,197 4,776
October (6) 27,249 5,611 6,391
November (3) 26,971 5,491 6,512
December (2) 53,578 5,145 5,898
Total                 386,056                           67,494                           78,118

Table 1 info
Figures in brackets next to the month are the number of blog posts published that month. 

Figures in red are uncorrected because the month hasn't finished yet. December has had a massive increase in Blogger views - I took my blog offline yesterday for a few hours and it seems to have settled back again. Looked like lots of 'views' from Russia but no-one actually viewing any posts (at least the numbers don't match). Nothing against real visitors from Russia but a sudden spike from 1,000 to 4,000 in one day seems a bit suspicious.

Not only is there a disparity between Blogger and Google page views for every month there's also an inconsistency in the mapping (eg 1,000 Google page views doesn't equal 2,000 Blogger ones - there's no obvious mathematical relationship between them).

Table 2: Lifetime and annual views of this blog
Year              Pageviews (Blogger)      Visitors (Google) Page views(Google)
2010 (77) 23,351     9,630*   18,958*
2011 (89) 65,972   22,343   40,263
2012 (141) 187,506   57,040   77,869
2013 (141) 553,064 136,941 164,352
2014 (100) 779,632 199,217 226,419
2015 (50) 498,355 113,129 130,115
2016 (39) 379,613   66,614   77,092
Lifetime      2,487,538                            491,785^                735,068
                                                               603,408^^               735,068


Table 2 info
Figures in brackets next to the year are the number of blog posts published that year.
*I began counting stats on Google Analytics in April 2010. Blogger began its own stats system in July 2010.
^) Count of everything in the column above it 
^^) lifetime count as given on Google Analytics - no idea why there's a difference, especially as the 735,068 is the same for both.

Popular posts for this blog (for all time)


Features of my blog to take into account
  • People find my posts almost entirely through search engine results (I don't promote my blog heavily on social media, though I do mention it fairly regularly)
  • The most popular posts here are about how to do something, often on Twitter - the answer to people's question(s) can usually be found within the first paragraph or the title, with the rest of the post containing supplemental information. This means that I have a VERY high bounce rate - people arrive, see the answer, leave. If this were a sales website that would be disastrous but as a largely 'how to' info blog that's OK. 
  • My blog is about many different things and therefore unfocused.
  • I don't have a regular posting schedule and literally post stuff as it occurs to me, which is appropriate given the name of the blog.

Previous posts about this blog's stats




Sunday, 18 December 2016

My experience of something like walking pneumonia - hospital admission and recovery

Homeopathy enthusiast Laurie J Willberg implies, rather overconfidently, that no-one has ever written a blog post about a pharma drug curing them.

https://twitter.com/LaurieJWillberg/status/808659218756763648

Here's one.

Certainly there are plenty of others. I encourage anyone who feels like doing so to write up a brief report of any medication they've taken that's solved any illness they've ever had. The nice thing is that homeopaths accept anecdotal evidence so a simple report of the nature of the illness and the medication taken will suffice ;)

Then let's have a blog carnival (not heard that term in years! Perhaps this is why.) and I'll link any posts I hear about below. Probably we can't include conditions like Type 1 diabetes and insulin treatment though because insulin doesn't cure someone of diabetes (they still have the condition) but it does allow people to stay alive in a way that they really might not have in the time before insulin injections were available. But 'cure' has a very specific and pedantic meaning, so... anyway here's the tale of my pharma-based recovery.

For balance I recommend reading Ben Goldacre's Big Pharma book which is critical of some of the systems and pressures that affect the way medicine works, including problems with trial design and reporting.

Jo's anecdotal report of being cured by pharma drugs

Overview
I didn't receive a formal diagnosis of whatever it was that made me ill but it seems quite possible that it was something very similar to 'walking pneumonia' which appeared to have both a viral and bacterial component (or possibly sequentially). I was really not well but I fully recovered in a few days with paracetamol, antibiotics (pharmacology), fluids (sort of pharmacology) and monitoring (good care) so here's my post explaining how paracetamol, clarithromycin and amoxicillin cured me of a chest infection helped along by nutrients like glucose and saline and measuring blood pressure, pulse and temperature to see how things were going.

That time I was a bit ill in January 2016On Thursday 7 January 2016 I woke up at 5am with a nasty cough which kept me awake on and off until 10am (at the time I didn't work on Thursdays so it was a day off anyway) and was annoying but no more than any other cough / chest infection.

I had breakfast and checked emails etc and pottered around for a bit but noticed that I felt a bit spacy and not quite right, and then I noticed my heart rate - it was 100. My resting pulse varies between 62 and 72 but I wouldn't have minded even 80 or 90, but 100 seemed a bit much. I went to sleep for a couple of hours to see if that helped but woke up and felt worse and pulse was up to 120. A shower didn't help either and I realised that it was getting faster, to the point that it was difficult to count the beats. Plus I felt not at all well and had found the exertion of getting in and out of the shower quite hard, normally it's not exerting at all.

By the time I'd got a taxi sorted to take me to A&E (it wasn't quite a blue-light ambulance situation, though in retrospect perhaps it should have been) I was quite breathless and finding it difficult to talk. Once I got to A&E I felt quite panicky, a sort of dawning realisation that I can't be very well if I'm in A&E and began to get tingling in my arms and hands (not legs or feet though). Things moved very quickly after I was triaged by a lovely person who tried to relax me, despite telling me I was in 'high AF' (atrial fibrillation where the heart rhythm goes awry and the sequence of events that brings blood into the heart and pumps it out again gets out of sequence, my heart was going so fast it was kind of missing steps out!) and I was put on an ECG machine and hooked up to blood pressure (184/something or other so very high - it went up to over 200 before dropping later). I didn't have any chest or left-arm pain - they asked, and I said my chest felt a bit exhausted, but no crushing or burning sensations.

Lovely nurse and doctor came and had a chat and asked me lots of questions about my medical history (uncomplicated picture of health) and I noticed that everyone seemed to perk up a bit when I said I'd never smoked. I had been put on fluids and must have been feeling better because at that point I asked the doctor about that - it seemed counterintuitive to me that if my pressure was high, then introducing more fluids into the situation seemed like a bad idea. It apparently doesn't work like that and he said I was quite dehydrated, which surprised me no end as I'd had a pint of milk and a 500ml bottle of water earlier in the day. But when you're fighting an infection your fluid requirements might be a bit higher than normal and to be honest I'd probably panted quite a lot out trying to breathe / cool down!

Possibly my use of the word 'tachycardia' rather than fast heart-rate prompted the doctor to ask if I had a medical background. I explained that I didn't but had worked in the area so understood a fair bit (though I'm obviously not medically trained). This made things quite interesting as I got to hear a bit more about the tests they were doing, and the worst one was coming up.

If you are ever told you'll be having blood drawn from the artery in your wrist (an ABG [arterial blood gases] test) and they offer you a local anaesthetic, accept that anaesthetic. I thought having a line for a drip put in the vein my front elbow (is there a word for that, medical or otherwise... crook?) was uncomfortable. My veins are quite deep so it was quite an effort for people to get bloods out of me for the morning tests, and to get fluids in. I was a pin cushion of bruises.

Anyway after a bit of jabbing they got some blood out of the artery but unfortunately the machine stopped working so they had to do it again. I insisted they give the other wrist a go to let the first recover (by this time is was after 9pm so I'd been there for four hours) and didn't have anaesthetic there either. At one point the needle contacted my radial nerve and I must have let out a bit of a yelp as that was a pretty acute and unpleasant experience - it felt as if molten lava was flowing across my hand. For a week afterwards every time I put on a jumper and stretched out my arm I got a shooting pain along the nerve but thankfully nerves recover and that went quite quickly.

The test lets them infer what any bacteria might be doing, presumably I might have been at risk of having bacteria in the blood (or worse, bacteria in the blood that weren't responding to medication) but the results were only a little higher than normal and not a cause for alarm, at least that's my understanding of it. The doctor also mentioned that I'd been cyanotic when I arrived (blue around the edges, not a good sign if it comes on suddenly - I'd not noticed it) but by now I was 'back in sinus rhythm' which is good news in my book.

Two days later everything had returned to 'higher than normal' rather than 'blimey, high' and being out of danger I was allowed to go home and continue getting things back to normal myself, with the medication highlighted above. I set myself up a list with timings and the medications I should take at times throughout the day and followed it religiously, also monitoring my temperature which remained normal. I didn't overexert myself (another doctor cautioned against treating myself as if I was much better before I really was, to avoid some sort of post-viral fatigue thing - I don't know much about that but cheerfully followed the advice to chill out).

Without a formal diagnosis I can't prove what I had, or how seriously ill I was. For example I don't think I had sepsis but perhaps if I'd not gone to hospital promptly things might have headed in that direction. If you're a doctor reading and can clarify anything I've misunderstood I'm happy to hear about it. I was relieved to recover and am happy to write this, and indeed any, post highlighting that homeopathy is a load of twaddle and won't cure anyone of anything.

Blog carnival placemarker for others' anecdotal cures
• your blog post here...




Sunday, 11 December 2016

There's a petition to Wikipedia asking it to be less mean to homeopathy + FTC action in US

Wikipedia petition
By any metric this is a very successful petition. At the time of writing it is 531 people shy of reaching 15,000 signatures all of whom are signing in support of the petition's aim to amend Wikipedia's article on homeopathy. Many fans of homeopathy are concerned that the article, as it currently stands, is biased against homeopathy and excludes evidence of its successes in treating people (and animals). The fact that the evidence is not of sufficient quality is neither here nore there.

What amuses me most about the petition is that it is TO Wikipedia, an organisation whose founder agrees that the best evidence shows homeopathy to be no better than placebo.

I am one of many people who have edited the homeopathy page on Wikipedia. Anyone can edit it, and the edit will remain as long as they have made a sensible contribution. If not, their contribution is either simply wiped by reverting the page to its previous edit or the contribution is amended by someone else.

Sending a petition 'to Wikipedia' is sending a petition to me and to all other people who've edited that page. Obviously I can only speak for myself but 'bad luck' is my official response to this petition ;)

Have a giggle over at https://www.change.org/p/wikipedia-call-to-action-to-update-homeopathy-at-wikipedia

FTC toughens up on labelling rules for homeopathy pills
There's been quite a lot in the news lately about the US's Federal Trade Commission's toughened stance on the labelling of over the counter (OTC) homeopathy pills. Homeopathy confections must now include text on the packaging which makes it clear that there's no scientific evidence supporting the use of the pills for health conditions. This is a big deal, but it is not quite right to say - as headlines have - that the FTC requires manufacturers to say the pills don't work. Although it is rather implied.

It would be interesting to know if consumers pay a great deal of attention to the labelling and, more importantly, if they understand its implication. Saying something has no scientific evidence in its favour is vastly more oblique than saying "these pills do not work".

The FTC's publication "Enforcement Policy Statement on Marketing Claims for OTC Homeopathic Drugs" on the updated rules for homeopathy marketing says
"In light of the inherent contradiction in asserting that a product is effective and also disclosing that there is no scientific evidence for such an assertion, it is possible that depending on how they are presented many of these disclosures will be insufficient to prevent consumer deception. Marketers are advised to develop extrinsic evidence, such as consumer surveys, to determine the net impressions communicated by their marketing materials." (emphasis added)
Telling people homeopathy doesn't work hasn't stopped people from using it so I can't really see that obliquely implying it by phrasing it as 'there's no scientific evidence that homeopathy works' would make a great deal of difference.

I also wonder if this updated labelling will make it harder for consumers, on realising they've been duped, to get their money back. After all the products will now say (or at least more strongly imply) in the small print that there's no good evidence that a 'pill for self-limiting condition X' is any good at helping the symptoms of X. Buyer beware.

Homeopathy 'treatments' must be labelled to say they do not work, US government orders (21 November 2016) The Independent
The Federal Trade Commission has demanded that producers of homeopathic treatments say on the label that they do not work




Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Latest regulatory action on homeopathy, at home and abroad

by @JoBrodie, brodiesnotes.blogspot.com

1. United Kingdom

The text below the line is a comment that I wrote in response to Andy Lewis' Quackometer post(1) about the latest entertainment from the UK's Society of Homeopaths.

In response to the recently 'reaffirmed' guidance (perhaps read that as "you've got away with it for a bit too long and we've had enough") from the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) on homeopathy marketing the SoH have objected to a focus on homeopaths (which has largely been driven by skeptics - we've also got the ASA to look more closely at other things and they've produced guidance on live blood analysis for example).

They consider that the ASA is unfairly targeting them (though as Alan Henness, writing on the Nightingale Collaboration website(2), notes - they implicitly acknowledge that it's the same law for everyone) and they are [tee hee] considering mounting some sort of legal challenge [ha ha] against the ASA.

No-one is sure why. Even if their actions were to wipe out the ASA there's still Trading Standards (TS) to contend with and we can all report homeopaths directly to TS, who can instigate criminal proceedings. The ASA is a bit like a fuse or canary in the coalmine and if homeopaths (only the ones that make misleading health claims) work with them they can probably avoid further trouble.


I expect homeopaths will make a legal challenge to skeptics to try and stop us from reporting their misleading peers to any regulatory body ;)

It may be helpful for homeopaths to understand the following, I'm not sure if they do. The UK's regulations for marketing in the UK cover obvious things like websites and leaflets but they also cover Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts. Many homeopaths have blocked skeptics from these social media but they'd do well to understand that unless the account is private blocked people can just log out to view posts (or use third party apps, or scrape tweets directly from Twitter's API via IFTTT etc). In short, we can see your posts, so please don't post misleading stuff, thanks.

Here's my response to Andy's post.



If I understand correctly then this would seem to be pretty good news for skeptics. By having a bit of a comedy bleat these homeopaths will

1. Surely lose
2. Waste money
3. Draw yet more attention to homeopathy’s poor evidence
4. Open themselves up to public ridicule (OK less ‘will’ and more ‘already are’)

Less good news for both skeptics and homeopaths is the risk that a homeopath is going to end up with a criminal case against them via Trading Standards (for all my mocking of their behaviour I think we could all do without that, although… it would be a bit schadenfreude-y). Then there’s the awful risk of someone coming to real harm by being misdirected on health advice.

Trading Standards have already taken action on cases referred to them by the ASA (though not yet, as far as I’m aware, any to do with homeopathy) – the outcome of these can be read on their website here https://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Trading-Standards-referrals.aspx. There’s no feasible legal objection to ASA’s involvement in this that’s available to them, as far as I can see. Trading Stds’ interventions have resulted in people amending their websites, taking their websites down and / or ceasing trading and one marketer has been prosecuted. It seems that most people, when contacted by Trading Standards, manage to find the edit button for their website.

I strongly agree with your point about the possibility of the ASA having been seen as a kind of critical friend to homeopaths and I’d naively hoped that skeptics might even have been able to do something similar too, a little further upstream.

“I’ve always thought that it would seem to be a kindness to give a company an opportunity to avoid a citation on the ASA’s website by seeing if it’s possible to resolve the misleading claims before snitching on them.” – from a blog post of mine in 2013 http://brodiesnotes.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/if-youve-received-askforevidence-tweet.html

Sadly my utopian dream did not come true and I’m mostly reporting homeopaths to the ASA and even Trading Stds directly – I wonder if the Society of Homeopaths has any thoughts about the legal basis for skeptics complaining to the regulators! I still reply to misleading homeopathy tweets (probably unseen by the homeopath given that they’ve blocked all of us, but visible to everyone else of course).

It’s a shame they’re telling their supporters that ‘homeopathy denialists’ have been “trounced” in many countries as that’s flat out wrong, to the point that I had to add an international section to the Skeptic Successes in Homeopathy storify https://storify.com/jobrodie/skeptic-successes-in-homeopathy

I shall watch this with interest – I may have to update the even more recently-added section, on “Homeopaths’ own goals” 😉

Jo

2. United States




The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) in the US also appears to have had it up to here (makes head-height gestures) with homeopaths implying that homeopathy is something akin to medicine when it really should be in the home baking or tea-sweetening aisles. They have published new guidelines(3) requiring homeopathic products to state clearly on the labelling that there's no scientific evidence that they work.

This should prove interesting...

In the world of science communication we have understood for some time that giving people more information about science, or correcting misinformation, doesn't automatically lead to people being more favourable towards science. In fact it can just as easily backfire and make them more entrenched. People who believe in homeopathy probably aren't going to care (or even notice) that people they already don't trust are telling them products they like are rubbish. I suspect the new labelling will not be a very effective leverage point for skeptics to use in keeping homeopathy marketing honest in the US.

I wonder if the FTC has inadvertently done homeopathy manufacturers a favour though as presumably it will no longer be possible for anyone to get a refund (or for groups of people to start a class action against a manufacturer) if they find that they don't get better after taking the product. The new packaging specifically highlights, albeit obliquely, that the contents don't work as described.

3. References and further reading

(1) Quackometer blog (15 November 2016) Society of Homeopaths ‘Taking Legal Advice’ to Fight the ASA
(2) Nightingale Collaboration (22 November 2016) The different faces of the Society of Homeopaths
(3) FTC (15 November 2016) FTC Issues Enforcement Policy Statement Regarding Marketing Claims for Over-the-Counter Homeopathic Drugs: Efficacy and Safety Claims Are Held to Same Standard as Other OTC Drug Claims






Saturday, 19 November 2016

Lovely documentary - Revolution: New Art for a New World

At the end of this post there's more information on how to see the documentary in cinemas in London and around the world, and a 'save the date' for a Russian art exhibition at the RA in 2017.

In 2011 a friend dragged me willingly along to the RA for an art exhibition called "Building the Revolution: Soviet art and architecture". I'd have to confess that I'm not naturally very cultured and probably wouldn't go near any art exhibition unless someone pushed me, but I enjoyed most of the art very much and was hopelessly smitten with photographs of Shuklov's Shabolovka Tower which is a bit like a massive pylon.

SC-Shukhov_tower_shabolovka_moscow
Dibs.


On Thursday 10 November I went to see Margy Kinmonth's new documentary film Revolution: New Art for a New World at its gala premiere (and Q&A) at the Curzon Mayfair. Tom Hollander (big fan, don't miss him in Travesties at the Apollo in early 2017) voiced the artist Kazimir Malevich.

I thought it was great - beautifully shot and in ways I'd not really seen before. The ending was gorgeous, the camera zooming in to what I think was a Malevich piece and wheeling round so that the last thing zoomed into was a black line which got bigger until it entirely took up the screen and so... fade to black. There was also a nicely unsettling use of a kind of split-screen with mirror images that was very effective when people were walking up or down stairs that I rather liked. One shot that particularly intrigued me made it look as if they were using an underwater camera but something in the Q&A made me realise that they might have just been pointing the camera into a very reflective puddle! Anyway I thought it was lovely.

One other comment that came up in the Q&A (with Kate Muir) was how lovely it was to see the art on such a massive 'canvas' of the big screen, it was certainly very immersive.

Edmund Jollife's music was great and the invigorating end credits music accompanies a nice list of all the artists discussed in the documentary and what happened to them - for a lot of them it was fairly horrendous and not at all a happy ending.

As well as paintings and sculptures we saw some fantastic footage of old films. Trams and trains featured quite a bit and we learned that trains would travel around Russia sharing art, books, ideas and screening films for everyone which is something I'd love to bring back! Imagine a cinema carriage on your commute home.

There were quite a few artists I'd never heard of who have produced gorgeous art which I've missed out on - I'd probably need to look up a list of who was mentioned in the film to get their names though.




I'd certainly never knowingly heard of Kazimir Malevich before my interest was piqued knowing that Tom Hollander was involved in the production, though I recognised some of his art as having been on display at the Royal Academy. My favourite piece of his, which wasn't on display in 2011, was his black square which is literally a black square on a white background (coincidentally there's a very similar emoji 🔳). You might think why on earth bother painting one of those (I think he painted several versions) and it's definitely one of those pieces of art that prompts those "I could paint that" comments, but I don't think anyone had done it before and it's now apparently worth about $20 million. It's quite arresting though, in any gallery setting, but in one of its displays it was boldly positioned in the room in the same place that would normally be reserved for a religious icon. 

The documentary is being screened all over the place now and presumably at some point it will be on television - but I'd definitely recommend getting to see it on a bigger screen if you can. More details below.

See the documentary...
Watch this documentary in London: Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th November at the Curzon Mayfair, Tuesday 22nd November at Curzon Bloomsbury, Thursday 24 November at Curzon Soho, Saturday 26 November at the ICA (with a pre-film talk from the director Margy Kinmonth) and on Friday 2nd December 2016 at the Courtauld (Somerset House). 

For all screenings in other UK cities and other countries see http://revolution.film/releasedates

...and some of the art itself
See the art next year: Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 (11 Feb to 17 April 2017) at the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) in London.







Saturday, 5 November 2016

I've made a lantern with sticks of willow and strong tissue paper

 Willow lantern-making workshop in Pinner - the final results, in a Pinner garden

Pinner is admittedly quite far from Blackheath (Charing Cross to Marylebone, fast train to Harrow on the Hill then 183 to Pinner works well but Pinner's also on the Metropolitan line, zone 5 (Watford trains stop there)) but if you happen to live a bit nearer than me then you might like to know that they sometimes do fun craft things at the Heath Robinson Museum which is in West House above Daisy's Cafe. This can be found at the far end (if you're coming from the station) of Pinner Memorial Park. The park is unlit at night so I recommend bringing a torch as the path is surrounded by trees so visibility is minimal. It's quite spooky!


On Thursday 3 Nov it was make your own willow lamp; these are lit either by a tealight or by a battery operated version.




I wish I'd taken a photo of the bushel of willow sticks tied up, it was quite impressive, possibly taller than me. You can buy them in stacks of about 250 (they're actually sold by weight rather than by number) from a variety of places, the class tutors recommended Somerset Willows (whose website is fascinating with lots of pictures of the process of growing, harvesting and preparing the willow sticks).

Dry willow sticks are still reasonably malleable in that you can, with a couple of firm thumbs, straighten them a bit and I think our tutors (the lovely Harinder and Kam who were fab and helpful) must have done quite a bit of pre-work on our ready-cut sticks so that we started the evening with some nice straight bits of willow.

The order of play is -
  1. Make a triangular platform for the tealight so that it can sit in the middle of the finished item
  2. At each corner add perpendicularly a willow stick so that a bit pokes out the bottom, raising the platform off the ground
  3. Towards the top add three smaller lateral sticks to provide a 'side' on which to stick the paper
  4. Add a sheet of wetted/glued paper to each side, add decoration, add another sheet of paper
  5. Quaff Prosecco and finger food, tidy up, let your lantern dry at home

The first thing we made is a strong triangular base on which the tealight will sit and once that's done it's tied to three sticks at each corner which are then brought to a point at the top. In the picture above you can see the white paper is attached on each side to a sort of A-frame - the bit at the bottom is the tealight stage and the smaller one at the top is added last (once the three vertical sticks are tethered at the top).

We used masking tape to construct the entire thing - it's much easier to tear of lots of two inch strips beforehand and stick them to a table. Then to bind the sticks together we split the masking tape bits lengthwise and folded the tape around the join, pushing in the tape to be as snug as possible. As masking tape is very flexible and 'flattenable' it's really good for this so we smoothed off our joins so they were quite neat. The trick is to leave a bit of stick sticking out then cut off the excess as it's much easier to join than trying to stick together two ends of wood.

Once we'd made the tealight platform we trimmed off the sticky-out bits from the bit the tealight sits on (but NOT the background triangle - for that we wait until the whole thing is constructed and has dried) and covered the ends with more masking tape.


The tealight is pretty light (ha!) even with a battery in so any platform will do.



Taking 3 longer willow sticks we lashed them perpendicularly to the tealight platform so that the platform was a few inches off the ground, then bound them at the top after deciding how tall we wanted the finished lamp to be. We spent a fair bit of time beforehand getting these to be reasonably straight and then did the perpendicular lashing.

The penultimate stage was to add to each side near (but not at) the top another shorter willow stick so that we had something to stick the tissue paper too.

Then we cut out some wet-strength tissue paper so that it was slightly larger than our A frame, and covered both sides in glue (50% water, 50% PVA glue) using the soft side of a dish-washing sponge dipped in the glue. This bit gets quite messy and a plastic-coated table cloth is a fantastic investment here! PVA glue peels off quite nicely from your hands once dried though (or you can just wash it off).

With care, place one sheet over one side of your lamp and cut so that it is just slightly larger. Stretch it taut over the frame (it will be even more taut when dry). This bit is quite fiddly and you need to roll it over the round willow stick but don't need it to fold back on itself inside (because you'll see all the joins once lit from within so the plan is to try and avoid any!). Same with the top and bottom, trimming away the excess and using the dipped spong add more glue where it contacts the willow. Repeat on all three sides.

We used leaves as decoration - again these are coated in glue on both sides and positioned on the tissue, then a second layer of tissue is added on top. Ideally try and get this taut from the get-go so that you minimise air bubbles and wrinkles, but good luck with that, especially if you've had a glass of Prosecco ;) I did my best!

Two sides of the nearly finished lamp showing leaves (once gently lit
you can see their colours, it doesn't look like a black silhouette).
 
Once you've put on six layers of tissue (two per side with a decoration in the middle, for which you can also regular coloured tissue paper as the colour of whatever you add will come through fine, even leaves) you can cover the masking tape with raffia fibre to finish things off.

Tidy up and wash your hands, walk home with a willow lamp and let it dry overnight. Then you can prune the ends with secateurs, tie the top (cover the masking tape) with raffia fibres, stick a battery in your battery-operated tealight and tell visitors how you came by your one-off piece of art :)

 Mobile phone acting as torch!

The next event, at time of writing, is monoprinting on Mon 7 November and a Christmas print workshop on Thur 1 Dec, both £25 with glass of Prosecco and finger-food. It looks like they do crafts on the 1st Monday and Thursday of every month.

Post-script: it's possible to make willow lanterns at craft workshops all over the place but I'm particularly glad I picked this one in Pinner as it afforded me what turned out to be the last opportunity to see my dad alive. We spent a lovely day together on the Friday (4th) before I headed off to the Royal Albert Hall for Jurassic Park Live. He rang me on Saturday morning shortly before I published this and we had a chat before he headed off to the shops, but he collapsed and died rather suddenly on the way back. To be fair he'd have been delighted at the manner of his death though - quick and painless, but the lamp will always be a bittersweet reminder.




Saturday, 29 October 2016

Christmas 2016: How to watch #Elf in London this December

Welcome to the vaguely annually updated 'Where to watch Elf in London' 2016 edition.

Elf, best Christmas film ever. Rarely seen on regular UK terrestrial television now, due to Sky buying the rights to it (or at least that's what I heard). Fortunately it is in plentiful supply in cinemas and there are many screenings in London over the next few weeks.

Orgnistaions and venues
Backyard Cinema - Winter Night Garden Cinema, Mercato Metropolitano, 42 Newington Causeway, SE1 (Elephant & Castle)
Charlotte Street Hotel Cinema, W1T 1RJ
Clapham Grand
Electric Theatre Cinema, Peckham - Winter Film Club
Exhibit Bar & Restaurant Cinema, Balham
The Gaucho - Fitzrovia / Goodge St: 60A Charlotte Street,W1T 2NU
Pop Up Screens - Hackney Showroom, Hackney Downs, Studios Amhurst Terrace, E8 2BT
Prince Charles Cinema - Leicester Square
Regent Street Cinema - 309 Regent Street, W1B 2HW
Soho Hotel Cinema
St Swithun's Church Hall, SE13 6QE

These venues screened Elf last year but not sure if they're doing it again - they do other great Christmas films so do have a look at their menu.
Nomad Cinema - Victoria: Ecclestone Place Courtyard, Victoria
Rooftop Film Club - Kensington Roof Gardens
Underground Film Club - Vaults, Lower Marsh, Waterloo

Here are some that I know about (I've bolded all the Saturdays)

NOVEMBER
  • Saturday 19 November, 4.30pm - Backyard Cinema (£16.50) [info
  • Friday 25 November, 8.00pm - Backyard Cinema (£16.50) [info
  • Sunday 27 November, 12.30pm - Backyard Cinema (£16.50) [info]  
DECEMBER
3-9 December 2016 
  • Saturday 3 December
    12pm - Gaucho Film Club (£55 with meal) 3 places left [info]
    3.50pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£13.50 / £11 members) [info]
    8.00pm - Backyard Cinema (£16.50) SOLD OUT [info
  • Sunday 4 December
    2.00pm - St Swithun's Church Hall
    3.50pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£13.50 / £11 members) [info]
    4.00pm - Exhibit Bar & Restaurant Cinema, Balham [info]
    7.00pm - Charlotte Street Hotel Cinema London
  • Tuesday 6 December, 9.00pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£13.50 / £11 members) [info]
  • Thursday 8 December
    9.00pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£13.50 / £11 members) [info]
    9.00pm - Pop Up Screens (£20, under-10s £10) [info]
  • Friday 9 December
    7.00pm - Clapham Grand
    9.00pm - Backyard Cinema
10-16 December 2016
  • Saturday 10 December
    12pm - Gaucho Film Club (£55 plus meal) SOLD OUT [info]
    1.00pm - Pop Up Screens (£20, under-10s £10) [info]
    9.00pm - Backyard Cinema (SOLD OUT) [info]
  • Sunday 11 December
    2.00pm - Electric Theatre Cinema, Peckham [info]
    8.30pm - Pop Up Screens (£20, under-10s £10) [info]
  • Tuesday 13 December
    6.10pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£13.50 / £11 members) [info]
    8.45pm - Exhibit Bar & Restaurant Cinema, Balham [info]
  • Wednesday 14 December, 8.30pm - Pop Up Screens (£20, under-10s £10) [info]
  • Thursday 15 December
    4.30pm - Backyard Cinema (SOLD OUT) [info]
    6.25pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£13.50 / £11 members) [info]
  • Friday 16 December
    6.15pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£13.50 / £11 members) [info]
    6.45pm - Electric Theatre Cinema, Peckham [info]
    8.00pm - Backyard Cinema (SOLD OUT) [info]
17-23 December 2016
  • Saturday 17 December
    12pm - Gaucho Film Club (£55 plus meal) SOLD OUT [info]
    1.00pm - Pop Up Screens (£20, under-10s £10) [info]
    4.30pm - Exhibit Bar & Restaurant Cinema, Balham [info]
    5.00pm - Electric Theatre Cinema, Peckham [info]
  • Sunday 18 December
    3.30pm - Soho Hotel (£40 plus meal) [info]
    7.00pm - Soho Hotel (£40 plus meal)  [info]
    8.30pm - Pop Up Screens (£20, under-10s £10) [info]
    9.00pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£13.50 / £11 members) [info]
  • Monday 19 December
    6.15pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£11 / £8.50 members) [info]
    8.30pm - Backyard Cinema (SOLD OUT) [info]
  • Wednesday 21 December, 6.25pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£13.50 / £11 members) [info]
  • Thursday 22 December, 9.00pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£13.50 / £11 members) [info]
  • Friday 23 December
    6.15pm - Prince Charles Cinema (£13.50 / £11 members) [info]
    8.30pm - Backyard Cinema (SOLD OUT) [info]
24 December 2016 onwards
  • Saturday 24 December
    11.30am - Regent Street Cinema (£1.75, Kids' Kino Club) [info]
    12pm - Gaucho Film Club (£55 plus meal) SOLD OUT [info]
  • Friday 30 December
    4.30pm - Backyard Cinema (SOLD OUT) [info]
Based on a previous post: How to watch #Elf in London in December 2013
and How to watch #Elf in London in December 2015




Friday, 7 October 2016

Anti-anxiety apps - collection following a discussion on Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Sunday, 2 October 2016

Independence Day Live at the Royal Albert Hall was incredible

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

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

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

God it was great :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few people broke the Wittertainment cinema code of conduct and took photographs of key moments in the film, and a couple even took short video clips. Amazingly no-one was thrown out for this but I'm quite glad they took the videos as it's lovely to relive these again later. I'm watching on fairly average laptop speakers and it still sounds great to me, see what you think with these clips.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKsIc8aArGj/ - Jeff Goldblum's realised that the alien signal contains a countdown and the spacecraft lining up is a bad bad thing. The music is properly menacing but you can still hear what's going on on-screen perfectly.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKrUuSlBAvy/ - I think this clip happens just before the one above but is intercut with a different group of people in the film experiencing the 'what IS that?' moment as the spaceship appears. The person who made the clip said "This has always been my absolute favourite part of the score. It was so powerful bellowing through the arena. Such an incredible night."

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

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

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

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




Saturday, 1 October 2016

UK regulators hot on the heels of homeopathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

The relevant announcements and files




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

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

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

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

So why block?

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

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

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





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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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



 

How to get tickets for something that might be sold out

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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