Has Traditional Medicine Let You Down?

One of the great things about living in London is that so much of popular entertainment is made here, especially television. If you’re interested in how television is made then it’s easy  to get free tickets to recordings fairly frequently. If you don’t care at all about what you see you could go to a different recording nearly every week, and even if you’re more selective you can still manage one every couple of months. You’d be amazed how many chat shows and game shows there are across all the channels we have now.

So it is that I get fairly frequent emails alerting me to new shows in production that are looking for audience members or participants. Most of them look pretty uninteresting, but I glance at them all so I don’t miss the occasional gem. Of course there also those special few that make me go, “WTF?”

A couple of days ago I got an email asking, “Has Traditional Medicine Let You Down?” It read as follows:

Hello there!

We thought that you might be interested to know that we are currently looking for people to become involved in a brand new series.


Outline Productions are making a ground breaking new series for a major broadcasting channel, and we want you to be part of it.

Are you one of the many in the UK who have Verrucas, Athletes Foot or Warts?

Has traditional, over the counter medicine not worked for you?

Or are you a male who would be interested in trying out an alternative, natural aphrodisiac to boost your sexual libido and performance?

If this sounds like you or someone you know please get in touch ASAP via our website

This email has it all: a Ron Burgundy-style misplaced question mark (“A new health series wants you?”); an overall tone reminiscent of Homer Simpson’s classic, “Hello sir! You look like a man who needs help satisfying his wife”; a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey approach to capitalisation. And of course the fact that they’re apparently genuinely making a television programme about curing warts with alternative medicine. What are they going to suggest, homeopathic doses of toad?

It hurts my brain to think that some people might read this and think, yes, TV is clearly the way forward with addressing this annoying verruca problem that modern medicine has somehow failed to rid me of.

Loser leaves town

Apparently Australian politics is run by Vince McMahon:

Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, has been sacked by her party just months before the next election and replaced by the man she ousted three years ago.

Gillard laid down the challenge to [Kevin] Rudd when she called on Wednesday for a do-or-die ballot, on the condition that the loser retire from parliament to end the debilitating Labor leadership war.

Reports suggest that Gillard also had all of her hair forcefully shaved off. She’s expected to return to politics under a new name and wearing a mask early next week.


For a few months now I’ve been using an app called Lift to track my adherence to a set of habits I’m trying to cultivate. Lift is an app with which you “check in” to the habits you’re trying to build. Every time you, say, floss in the morning you can check in to the “floss” habit, and Lift will track how many times you’ve done that this week, or this month, and how long your current unbroken streak is.

Lift (list)I find this a great way to keep my motivation for some things that I might otherwise find myself being too lazy to do. If I know I’ve eaten breakfast every morning for a week then I’m less likely to skip it tomorrow when I find I’m running late for work again. Even for habits that I’m never going to have a long streak in — like cooking dinner — I can at least aim to do better this week than last week.

Lift (habit)Setting it apart from the other habit trackers that I’ve tried, Lift also has a social element. Everything you do in the app is public. You can see what habits other people are trying to develop, and see how they do. And of course everyone can see what you do too. There’s a sense of support in seeing how many other people are working towards similar goals to your own. You can give “props” — basically virtual high-fives — to other users for their check-ins. It’s nice to check in after a run and immediately get a few props from fellow runners acknowledging the work you’ve put in.

Lift started life as an iPhone app but it has since expanded to have a web app component, opening it up to all of the non-iPhone users too. It looks like it ought to work pretty well on a mobile browser so you could use the web app pretty effectively on an Android phone.

If you decide to try it out you can follow me.

New Bus for London

I’ve just had my first journey on the new Routemaster bus, officially the New Bus for London. As of today the 24 route is to be entirely served by the new bus (aside from the occasional use of the older buses until a handful of delayed deliveries arrive). It will be the first route to exclusively use the new buses.

The 24 is my regular. It stops amazingly close to both my work and my home. It’s a lot slower than the tube but it’s convenient to have no changes and little walking. It also passes some of London’s more interesting locations (including Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and Trafalgar Square) so it’s good for people-watching. I tend to take the tube in the morning but catch the bus in the evenings when I’m in less of a hurry.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t expect to be using it at the weekend but today we happened to be out meeting one of my wife’s school friends near Victoria.

New Bus for London

The bus we took today was incredibly busy. I don’t know to what extent that’s because the route is always popular on weekends, because there was a lot going on in the West End on this particular day, or just because people wanted to try out the new bus. There was certainly an element of transport geekery in the air though. I heard at least two pairs chatting enthusiastically about the vehicle we were on and some other types of bus we passed along the way.

The new bus is a nice mix of classic and modern. The outside is boldly future-looking, with an emphasis on opening it up to the outside with large (often curved) windows. It will be easy to tell this bus apart from those serving other routes, even at a distance. Inside, the colours are beautiful deep reds and gold, making the seats look almost like old theatre seats, and of course the rear stairway and corner door are taken straight from the original Routemaster from the 1950s.

The extra door seems like it will make it much more efficient to get on and off, especially in the near future before most people realise they can use any of the three doors to board the bus.

I like having the assistant at the rear door, as it makes it possible to thank someone one the way out. I grew up with Dublin buses, on which you can thank the driver on the way out. But until now London buses have always required you to board at the front and leave by the middle doors, the prospect of actually having any interaction with a person being apparently too much for native Londoners to bear.

Taking the Mail’s side

Apparently it’ll cost you quite a substantial amount of money in the UK to be wrong about the specific mechanism a charlatan uses to scam vulnerable people out of their money. From the Guardian:

The Daily Mail has apologised and agreed to pay £125,000 in libel damages to a TV psychic it falsely accused of using a hidden earpiece to scam a theatre audience.

The article claimed that [Sally Morgan] had used a hidden earpiece during her performance in order to receive instructions and relay them on stage as if they were messages from the spiritual world.

I won’t go so far as to say I’m on the Daily Mail’s side — I’m sure they’ve done vastly more damage in the field of professional lying than Morgan could ever hope to — but they were particularly out of character by being in the right in this case. Hopefully the whole thing cost a fortune and the vast majority of the money will go to lawyers

Addendum: “Should I read the Daily Mail?”

Happy birthday, AdSense

10 CandleAdSense turned 10 years old today. That 10 years has taken it from a cool experiment in figuring out the best ways to earn money on the nascent web to an enormous project that accounts for about a third of the revenue of one of the most successful companies in the world.

The web is such a central part of many of our lives now that I like to be reminded occasionally how new it really is. This one is a particularly notable reminder for me: of the 10 years that AdSense has existed, I’ve worked on it for four; and I work with several people who have been on the project for more than half of its lifetime. I couldn’t hope for a better team to work with.


It’s two weeks until Google Reader will be turned off for good. Have you found a replacement yet? I’ve been using NewsBlur for a couple of weeks and I’m pretty happy with it.

NewsBlur is very easy to set up. Like most of the top contenders for Reader’s soon-to-be-vacated crown you can log in with your Google account and have your subscriptions migrated automatically. This makes it almost effortless to try it out and see if you can imagine yourself using it full-time.


The website is your standard list of subscriptions on the left of the content panel. As you’d expect you can view one site at a time, a whole folder, or all of your subscriptions.

One small annoyance is that it loads a few articles (which it calls “stories”) at a time and when you get to the bottom you need to reload the content pane to get the next batch. This is mitigated by the fact that there’s a full set of shortcut keys to do just about everything you want without touching a mouse or trackpad. For me the process of reading is just ‘n’ to get to the next unread article, ‘o’ to open it in a new tab if I want to read it later, and the ocassional ‘r’ to get a new set of articles to scroll through.

A big selling point for me was the existence of a decent native iOS app. In the Reader days I used an iOS and Mac app called Reeder (with an e), which is a pretty frontend that used Reader (with an a) as its data provider. Switching to an app that lacked either web syncing (like a pure native app would) or offline reading without an internet connection (like a pure web app would) was out of the question. I wouldn’t say that the NewsBlur app is quite as nice as Reeder, and there’s no native app for the Mac, but it works. There’s also an Android app, though I haven’t tried it myself.

I should point out that Reeder has recently gained support for another backend, Feedbin, though I didn’t become aware of this until I had already migrated to NewsBlur. Feedbin’s $2 price tag is negligible but will probably be enough to put off a lot of users anyway.

NewsBlur upgrade

NewsBlur is, incredibly, a one-person operation. Samuel Clay has been building it since 2009 as, he says, “a labour of love”. The recent influx of new users fleeing a sinking Reader have no doubt helped the labour along. Hopefully some of those new users have opted for NewsBlur’s premium option, which costs $2 a month in exchange for lifting the 64 feed limit that’s placed on free accounts, speeding up fetching, and some other smaller benefits.

There are also some social features around sharing stories, much like Reader used to have. You can find me — though I haven’t got into the habit of sharing things yet — at roryparle.newsblur.com.

Reader is dead. Long live the readers.

My Twitter and Google+ feeds today have been filled mostly with complaints, wails of despair and expressions of shock at the news that Google Reader is to be shut down this summer. Maybe Facebook too, I don’t know. Who cares what those Luddites are talking about, right? Obviously I’m not going to say anything about what led to the decision beyond what’s already been said in official channels, but I do have my own reaction to the news that I think is worth sharing.

I think, on balance, it’s a good thing. Some brilliant people have worked on Reader over the last eight years, and it’s a fantastic project. But it never got the support and push it needed to turn it into a really mainstream project, and in the last couple of years it’s been largely neglected. Reader earned its spot as the king of the feed readers by truly being the best option, but it hasn’t evolved in years, and that means the entire market of feed readers has stalled along with it.

While Reader’s usage wasn’t significant enough for Google to want to continue its development, its disappearance will make room for tens of innovative new companies and products to replace it. I look forward to seeing the effect this move has on the market for feed readers and by extension on the entire ecosystem of blogging.

Cooperation with developers

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (a very long while) you might remember that years ago I wrote a little Firefox extension called Make Link. It’s been an occasional source of both pride (download of the day on Lifehacker, featured in a video by popular internet hobo impersonator Merlin Mann) and shame (any time I look at the code). I haven’t worked on it in years, but I still get emails sometimes.

Here’s one from this morning:


We are looking for cooperation with developers.

If your firefox chrome plugin has active users (daily). We’ll pay you by the amount of daily-active uers.

We need you to update the plugin and feedback the following information to our server:
1. User-agent (Like Mozilla 19.0 )
2. Language (Like English, French)
3. OS (User operation system, like Win7, Linux)
4. URLs (all typed urls in the browser by every user)
5. IP address (user IP address)

Looking to hear back from you.

As it happens, yes, Make Link does have daily active “uers”. About 16,000 of them apparently, with 30-40 new downloads daily. I wonder how many of those people would be happy with me recording their IP addresses and entire browsing history and selling that data? I’m guessing probably not many.

London Underground puzzle

A few days ago I posted the following puzzle to my Google+ stream:

Can you find a route around the London Underground map taking in exactly one stop on each line (including DLR and Overground)? That is, get on the tube at one station, go one stop, change to another line, lather, rinse, repeat until you’ve been on every line.

London Underground map

I teased that I had a solution but I wanted to give people some time to work on their own solutions before describing my own. If you feel like giving it a shot, stop reading now. I’m about to describe how I went about finding a solution.

I started by recognising that any path between two stations that had only a single line but more than one leg could not be part of the solution. For example, the (direct) journey from Baker Street to Oxford Circus uses only the Bakerloo line but takes in an extra stop at Regent’s Park along the way, so it can’t be used if we’re to travel only one stop on each line.

There’s a bit more flexibility for a route that’s covered by more than one line. For example you would be allowed to travel from South Kensington to Victoria via Sloane Square by using the Circle line for one leg and the District line for the other. But you’re limited here to journeys of no more than two stops along these lines. Similarly, you can go three stops along the short route served by the Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines.

So I took the standard Tube map (above) and opened it in a graphics editor, and just started erasing pieces that couldn’t possibly form part of the solution. I left only stations that are served by more than one line, and which are connected directly (over a single-leg journey) to other stations served by more than one line.

Actually this approach removes some stations that could still potentially form part of a solution, because the two stations at the start and end of your route don’t need to be served by more than one line. It would be a simple matter to add those stations back at the end if it turned out to be necessary (though in fact it doesn’t).

Once I had my trimmed down map it was very easy to see that there would be a pretty even split with about half of the lines being west of the Waterloo & City line and half being east. The Waterloo & City line was really what made this a tractable problem, because it forces you to use Bank and Waterloo stations in any solution.

I spent a bit of time convincing myself it was impossible to get from the Metropolitan or Hammersmith & City lines down to Waterloo (via either Kings Cross or Baker Street), so those had to be on the east side of the solution. Victoria, Piccadilly and Bakerloo were all obviously on the west. The DLR could only ever have been on the east side, as could the Overground. The Jubilee looked unlikely to fit on the east. The Central, Circle, District and Northern lines were a bit more ambiguous, but it’s quite easy to show that you can’t get from Waterloo to the Piccadilly line without using at least two of Northern, Circle or District.

That reduced the field enough to just try out a few variations. The route I finally came up with was:

London Underground puzzle solution

  • Start at Moorgate
  • Take the Metropolitan line to Liverpool Street
  • Take the Hammersmith & City line to Aldgate East
  • Take the District line to Whitechapel
  • Take the Overground to Shadwell
  • Take the DLR to Bank
  • Take the Waterloo & City line to Waterloo
  • Take the Jubilee line to Westminster
  • Take the Circle line to Embankment
  • Take the Northern line to Charing Cross
  • Take the Bakerloo line to Piccadilly Circus
  • Take the Piccadilly line to Green Park
  • Take the Victoria line to Oxford Circus
  • Take the Central line to Bond Street

Of course you could substitute Aldgate for Moorgate and/or Tottenham Court Road for Bond Street, or do the whole thing in reverse. Aside from those variations, I think this is the only possible solution, though I haven’t proved it.