Purely a figment of your imagination

What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz


On being a “digital academic”

It's me

It’s me

A colleague asked me why I “left science” last year. I don’t really feel like I have; my dayjob involves writing about the amazing research and related goings-on at the place where I completed my PhD. I still feel connected to science; I’m just not at the bench.

Perhaps I’m lying to myself, but I’ll run with it.

While I may not be a practicing academic, many friends and colleagues are. As I now (and, for the last 15-odd years, always have) spend a lot of time online and with social networking, I watched a Google Hangout that was run by jobs.ac.uk today: Being a successful Digital Academic.

People often fear social networks, but I’ve defended them before and will continue to do so. I wouldn’t be in the position I am now without this blog, Twitter and the time I’ve spent on them, as well as the people I’ve met through them.

The hangout contained lots of useful tips for academics who are or might want to venture into the world of online chat, promotion and networking. You can find my notes here on Google Docs and the Piirus blog, too. Continue reading


Women who eat on tubes make menz cry

This post is to serve a few purposes: a love letter to my former favourite Facebook group – now sadly gone, a plea to fellow Londoners to take a (possibly literal) stand on this issue, and perhaps a bit of a general education to a few people, but I won’t make that objective #1 and I want to keep this short enough that people will read to the end.

I want to describe a phenomenon that’s had a bit of press attention lately, why it’s horrible, what could/should be done about it, and hopefully end on a funny.

Tl;dr: if you find yourself defending people who photograph and ridicule women without their knowledge, stop it. And then tell other people who are to shut up.

What is “women who eat on tubes”?

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FBrape campaign


On May 21st 2013, the Women, Action  & the Media group wrote an open letter to Facebook, which was signed by over 100 advocacy groups, asking them to review their policies on permitted content.


There has long been a problem on the site. While its “community standards” seem to be fairly clear:

Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech*. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

Facebook does not tolerate bullying or harassment.

Sharing any graphic content for sadistic pleasure is prohibited.

Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity. We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.”

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Confessions Of A Former Misogynist

NB/ there’re descriptions of violence in this, obviously – don’t read on if that’s not something you want to deal with today.

Another guest post for you, readers. This time, my friend Ben recounts his transition from misogynist to feminist. Yes I am happy to call him a feminist; I don’t think one needs to experience a form oppression to disagree with and stand against it. Men can be feminists; many are and they’re valuable allies.

I think this is an important post because it’s from a man who confesses his attitude was wrong, who noticed that, and then changed it over time. That doesn’t seem to happen too often and hopefully it might inspire some people, or at least help us to make sense of why people can harbour these common, irrational feelings of hatred.

NB/ text by Ben; I have added in headings, images and links.

What about the men?

“If I can’t have you, no one can!”

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For A Safer Internet

Today I would like to share a guest post with you, by my friend Colin, who is one of those I.T. people.

Last Tuesday was Safer Internet Day and I asked for a post explaining the importance of the projects that Colin is involved in – hopefully stirring up some interest in terms of staying safe online.

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Reasonable force?

Gonna go all topical today, because why not – and twitter’s 140 character limit is annoying me, which is rare.

You may or may not have heard about the new witch-hunt: a young man who goes by the alias of @Rileyy69 being arrested this morning.

This followed his abusive tweets to team GB diver Tom Daley last night after he and his partner unfortunately missed out on a medal in the synchronised diving.

He started by telling the diver he’d disappointed his dad. What wasn’t known to him at the time was that Daley’s father actually succumbed to a brain tumour last year – so, add insensitive to offensive there. Teenagers, eh?

However, such is the nature of Twitter –  Daley’s sharing of this admittedly vitriolic stuff led to wider awareness of his behaviour and even a mention on Sky News! Mr. 69 was not pleased about this, to say the least, and his timeline turned into a rather sweary, threatening affair, apparently including a wish that Daley would drown in a pool. Could possibly be considered a death threat, though I haven’t seen the actual tweet and whether he threatened to do this himself – or if it was, rather a deathwish (neither of which are pleasant but I’m sure we agree a threat is much worse). [Edit: ok, it looks like a threat]

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Antisocial media

So today I’ve been reading a bit more about:

How social media is destroying our brains!

One of my favourite comics noted a particular divide in society long ago (back in ‘97!); people who love technology and people who… don’t.


Highlighted in the Guardian and the Telegraph this week, this is a story that comes up quite a lot lately.

Turkle’s thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human

Oh, see how teh technomologies are ruining us as a species!! (They write on their laptops, seeing through their glasses, whilst recovering from operations last week or popping an aspirin for that headache).

Give us a break.

The different kinds of communication that people are using have become something that scares people

What, it scares some people, therefore it’s evil? What is this, the dark ages? It’s a shame we’ve not come far enough to realise that fear generally just leads to prejudice and is not a sensible reason to shun technology.

It’s no new phenomenon, of course. The population has always suffered from technofear and not always from the least informed members of society. For example, even a fictional* Socrates got his toga in a twist over the arrival of books if we’re to trust his student, Plato (from Dialogues of Plato, Phaedrus, p. 275):

this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories…

Yet, amazingly, even with the ubiquitous written word, we still manage to retain a fair bit of info in our minds. Indeed, people learn tremendous amounts from articles in their many forms. It may not be everyone’s favourite medium – audiobooks, TV, seminars and so on are going strong because not everyone learns/enjoys things in the same ways. But we’d all agree books aren’t evil, I think (I guess it depends on the content!).

they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Yeah, I know a lot of people like that too, Socrates. Funnily enough, they tend to read less.

*This looks like an interesting book; here, on the myth that led to Socrates’ character as depicted by Plato in Phaedrus - a king who refuses the gift of writing from the god Thoth, for fear of causing forgetfulness, and the origins of the ‘mnemonic’!

On the subject of interesting books, Martin has just linked me to this post by Jonah Lehrer – a review of a book called The Shallows that came out last year, exploring how the internet might be affecting our brains. Lehrer also cites Phaedrus as an early ‘technological scare’ and muses on man’s relationship with technology – in reality and fiction – the nature of multitasking and impact of video games. A highly recommended post.

Virtual Reality

The main argument seems to be that by talking to each other through the internet, people are departing from reality and suffering as a result.

it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world

I’m not sure what kind of world some of these people think they live in. Do they strike up a conversation with every stranger that walks past? Have they ever travelled the London Underground? Not talking to people you don’t know isn’t considered odd. So why is talking to people you do know, who don’t happen to be in your physical vicinity, so very upsetting?

Enter examples of sitting at the dinner table, at funerals, in restaurants whilst texting. Sorry, but if someone lacks manners, that’s probably one of many manifestations and it would be easy to shake a finger at some parents…

If you didn’t turn off the TV at dinner time or explain why answering your phone in the middle of a conversation isn’t acceptable; if you didn’t catch that rudeness early, then don’t be surprised if it continues and gets worse.

But it’s not exclusively young people – far from it! I’d say 95% of the phones going off in lectures/talks belong to the more senior members of the audience, for example. Perhaps another case of lack of understanding/acceptance of technology causing more of the problems than the technology itself.

I hate these things, I keep forgetting I even have it! I don’t know it’s mine that’s ringing most of the time - we’ve all heard that one!

Yes, most of us have had a collision with someone staring at their phone. But is it any better if they’re staring at a newspaper or a book? No. Especially if you’re in the middle of the road at the time (yes, man on Clerkenwell road reading the Metro, I’m thinking of you!!). These things have always happened, they always will; it’s people, not the technology. We can moan and then laugh about it but don’t blame the gadgets, it’s pointless!

Twitter and FB don’t connect people, they isolate them from reality, say a rising number of academics – define reality
Thanks to @ for returning me to the original point of this section.


One of the things that irks me most about these objectors is that they so rarely seem to consider people who are incapable of that peculiar idea of  real social interaction, or at least find it difficult – due to living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for example.

I have many friends with varying degrees of Asperger’s or simply find it difficult/unpleasant to interact with people directly – that doesn’t mean they don’t like people at all or despise all forms of human contact, though.

I’ve said before that I used to prefer to be on my own, didn’t have many friends – but a busy chat room provided a comfortable environment to talk to people of a range of ages, living in different countries. Talking to people online completely rekindled my interest in humanity and social interaction as a whole.

Of course that will not be the case for everyone. But I begrudge attacks on all social media on the premise that it prevents socialising (clue’s in the name?!) and the cultivation of interpersonal skills.

I suppose the problem is getting the people who do benefit from social media in touch with those who shun it; when one group finds it hard to talk directly to people and the other will only ever do that, that’s quite a barrier.

It’s not just a benefit to autistic people, though. It’s still not a well-understood condition and, like technology itself, often feared by the ignorant. By providing such individuals with the means to talk to others and, for example, explain their reactions and feelings, other people can better understand them and learn how best to approach them as friends, which is mutually beneficial.

It can be daunting to try to talk to someone whose ideas of acceptable social actions differ from yours quite drastically – that works both ways. I know people online who are great fun to talk to because of their sense of humour and intellectual brilliance. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to get to know them because I sometimes do find it much harder to talk to them ‘in real life’.

Sadly, critics of social media don’t seem to grasp this and the many other benefits of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, which I have sung the praises of before and will continue to do so.

Times, they are a-changing; move with them or be left behind!



Marc Cortez‘s take on the latest complaints.

The different kinds of communication that people are using have become something that scares people