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 gmx DOT com

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

Friday, 13 January 2017

Unusual Thunderbird mail glitch (overenthusiastic scrolling) - any ideas

I have three panels on Thunderbird (v45.6.0). Full length on the left is the list of folders then on the right split horizontally are two - on the top it's the list of emails in the mailbox I'm viewing and the panel below is the email I'm clicked on.

Normally if I move the cursor into the email pane and start scrolling (even without clicking into the pane) the text of the email moves so that I can read the complete message. I've found that Thunderbird just scrolls up and down through the messages above, meaning that what I can see in the message pane changes. It's a bit frustrating.

It's been going on for a while but I noticed a few days ago that it seemed to have sorted itself out without me doing anything. Alas after switching off and on again I'm back to the overly excitable scrolly thing.

Additionally the rate of scroll is impressively fast, with the slightest touch on the mousepad (Lenovo, Windows 10) making the cursor leap to the top or bottom of the message, or mailboxes, list. This isn't a mousepad sensitivity problem because scrolling behaves normally in all other programs.

I'm hoping that if I don't switch off my computer for a few days it might settle down by itself but I don't know what's causing it or how to find the settings to interact with that aspect of it.

The only scroll options I've found make no difference, in any permutation.

Any ideas what's causing it, and what I might do to fix it? Thanks!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Is there a list of places that employ Computer Science graduates?

Back in 2003 I wanted to find out what was available to someone (me!) new to the world of science communication. It's a huge field that encompasses museum explainers, people working in press and PR in medical research charities, bloggers / journalists / science writers, scientists and researchers working in educational or corporate institutions who want to talk to non-specialists about their work etc. I began making a note of "organisations that might employ science communicators" with a focus on London which is where I live.

As my list got bigger it naturally fell into themed areas (charities, learned societies, universities etc) and in 2009 I published what I had found, and others suggested new organisations and new thematic areas. It's a resource for people looking for work 'now' or for those who are 'prospecting' and want to find out what sort of things are available.

Where London science communicators might work (July 2009)

I wondered, on reading the Shadbolt Review (of computer science degree accreditation and graduate employability) if there might be something similar for people interested in working with computers or 'in computing'.
"We have gathered evidence that, outside of the large and well-known technology companies, the potential computer-related careers paths on offer to graduates can often be unclear and that graduate outcomes can be impacted through a lack of knowledge about the industries in which they could make effective use of their skills and knowledge." - 7.29, p77 of 91 in the Shadbolt review (below)

One of the recommendations, Recommendation 5, looks at careers advice and visibility of graduate opportunities - bemoaning the fact that students (and perhaps pre-students wondering what direction to head in) don't really have a good overview of what's available. In science communication I see that quite a few job openings are circulated within small groups - I wonder if prospective applicants (and, in this case, computer science students) are aware of that infrastructure, if those jobs aren't more widely findable.

Computer science degree accreditation and graduate employability: Shadbolt review (May 2016) 

Computing is an even wider field than science communication because almost every profession has its own software, and individuals skilled in unrelated matters might use software for their business needs. Employers like banks, charities, Google, Microsoft, Apple - not to mention startups - provide employment for people who are good at computers. Many of those employed will likely have or need a Computer Science degree but since there are plenty of self-taught computer geniuses in the maker / tinkering community too.

There's this, but the page is too vague for what I'm after but it is from ACGAS who are mentioned in the report (p78 of 91).

Edit: 12 January
I wrote this post yesterday (11 Jan 20117) then somehow inadvertently managed to revert it to a draft and delete the text within an hour or two of publication. Given that the Blogger platform is owned by Google and Google crawls Blogger blog posts very regularly I assumed I'd be able to find a cached copy, but alas it wasn't to be, so I've had to remember what I wrote, and then rewrite it. Silly mistake really.

Friday, 6 January 2017

"England, their England" on the lovely Marylebone Station

My dad recommended "England, their England" to me, in particular for its 'bit' on Marylebone Station in London. There are several ways* of getting to Harrow from (slightly more central) London and the one that involves Marylebone is the loveliest and quickest. Chiltern Rail have a service running twice an hour and it takes less than 15mins.

Marylebone always feels like it's from a bygone rail age and, like Paddington, is filled with the (to me, lovely) sound of rail engines idling. One fault is that the Harrow train (destination Aylesbury) is often hidden on Platform 6 which is that bit further away from the concourse. Worse, there are usually two trains on the platform and the one furthest away is the one you need. Often they give you less than 10 mins notice which is fine for me but was an awful burden on my poor dad who really struggled to get to the train in that time.

Just outside the station you can get the 2 (goes to Victoria) or 205 (goes to Stepney Green / Bow) bus and if you cross the road there's the 453 to Deptford Bridge. There's also a normal-priced newsagents shop there if you want refreshments for a longer journey (Marylebone goes to Birmingham, Oxford (as of 12 Dec 2016), Warwick etc).

Anyway here's what England, their England has to say about the station and a journey to Aylesbury (written in 1933 by AG Macdonell, set in the 1920s).
"Two days later he was at Marylebone Station, quietest and most dignified of stations, where the porters go on tiptoe, where the barrows are rubber-tyred and the trains sidle mysteriously in and out with only the faintest of toots upon their whistles so as not to disturb the signalmen, and there he bought a ticket to Aylesbury from a man who whispered that the cost was nine-and-six, and that a train would probably start from Number 5 platform as soon as the engine-driver had come back from the pictures, and the guard had been to see his old mother in Baker Street.

Sure enough a train marked Aylesbury was standing at Number 5 platform. According to the timetable it was due to start in ten minutes, but the platform was deserted and there were no passengers in the carriages. The station was silent. The newspaper boy was asleep. A horse, waiting all harnessed beside a loaded van, lay down and yawned. The dust filtered slowly down through the winter sunbeams, gradually obliterating a label upon a wooden crate which said "Urgent. Perishable."

Donald took a seat in a third-class smoker and waited. An engine-driver came stealthily up the platform. A stoker, walking like a cat, followed him. After a few minutes a guard appeared at the door of the carriage and seemed rather surprised at seeing Donald.

"Do you wish to travel, sir?" he asked gently, and when Donald had said that he was desirous of going as far as Aylesbury, the guard touched his hat and said in a most respectful manner, "If you wish it, sir." He reminded Donald of the immortal butler, Jeeves. Donald fancied, but he was not quite sure, that he heard the guard whisper to the engine-driver, "I think we might make a start now, Gerald," and he rather thinks the engine-driver replied in the same undertone, "Just as you wish, Horace."

Anyway, a moment or two later the train slipped out of the station and gathered speed in the direction of Aylesbury.

The railway which begins, or ends, according to the way in which you look at it, from or at Marylebone, used to be called the Great Central Railway, but is now merged with lots of other railways into one large concern called the London, Midland and South Coast or some such name. The reason for the merger was that dividends might be raised, or lowered, or something. Anyway, the line used to be called the Great Central and it is like no other of the north-bound lines. For it runs through lovely, magical rural England. It goes to places that you have never heard of before, but when you have heard of them you want to live in them—Great Missenden and Wendover and High Wycombe and Princes Risborough and Quainton Road, and Akeman Street and Blackthorn. It goes to places that do not need a railway, that never use a railway, that probably do not yet know that they have got a railway. It goes to way-side halts where the only passengers are milk-churns. It visits lonely platforms where the only tickets are bought by geese and ducks. It stops in the middle of buttercup meadows to pick up eggs and flowers. It glides past the great pile of willow branches that are maturing to make England's cricket-bats. It is a dreamer among railways, a poet, kindly and absurd and lovely.

You can sit at your carriage window in a Great Central train and gallop your horse from Amersham to Aylesbury without a check for a factory or a detour for a field of corn or a break for a slum. Pasture and hedge, and pasture and hedge, and pasture and hedge, mile after mile after mile, grey-green and brown and russet, and silver where the little rivers tangle themselves among reeds and trodden watering-pools.

There are no mountains or ravines or noisy tunnels or dizzy viaducts. The Great Central is like that old stream of Asia Minor. It meanders and meanders until at last it reaches, loveliest of English names, the Vale of Aylesbury."
The full text is available at Project Gutenberg Canada.

*An almost identical journey (running on a parallel line, though sometimes they run on the same tracks) is the Metropolitan tube line from Baker Street a few minutes walk away from Marylebone, that takes about ~20 minutes. Euston runs a rail service to Harrow & Wealdstone and Hatch End etc. The Overground trains also go from various North Central London stations to Harrow & Wealdstone but that's a slow stopping train.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Possible rapprochement with poetry

I've always found poetry a bit irritating. Probably my feelings about it stem from school English lessons in which we were encouraged to consider "what the poet was really trying to say" which made me wonder "why couldn't they just say it that way then?"

My particular peeve is with poems that don't scan and which have lines where the poet has pressed 'enter' too soon (it's called enjambment). The poem continues on the next line but you read the line as if it's continuous. Why? Why would anyone do that? Technically I know because I've read that Wikipedia article on enjambment that I just linked to. It seems like it wouldn't work with limericks as you need a bit of breathing space between the lines for the rhythm to work, though of course now I can think of examples where I'm wrong ;)

I'm interested in science communication generally and specifically in health communication in which complex medical information is explained to non-specialists, with some significant effort made to reduce ambiguity in the explanation (see the terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public here). Scientists and non-scientists may understand quite different things by 'model', or 'protein' or 'theory' so precision is required. This might also have coloured my view of poetry, which I acknowledge can be precise, but still poems seem to go out of their way to be oblique. Either the meaning has to be teased out (what inefficient communication!) or it appears to be incomprehensible gibberish. And said in a special intoning poetry voice.

I had a bit of epiphany yesterday though, and it's thanks to my love of film music. Music used in films can sneak up on you without you necessarily being aware of it, or the feelings it creates. It can create all sorts of moods and underscore what's happening on screen, or it can hint that something on-screen is not actually as it appears. It manages to do this without words and I'm gradually coming round to the idea that the rhythm / meter in poetry might be vaguely analogous to the pace of the music. Presumably the words themselves are meant to evoke something rather than actually making their meaning clear, perhaps a bit like those lovely Uilleann pipes always evoke Irish / celtic associations, or certain types of drum rhythms evoke the US military in films. That's about as far as I've got with mulling this over, but I might have to try and rethink my irritation with poetry.

Poems should still rhyme though, and preferably be funny :)

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