Archive for September, 2010

Podcast plug – Dr Aust live (ish)

September 30, 2010

In which Dr Aust does some heavy breathing into a headset.

A week or so back, thanks to the wonders of internet-based communication technology (aka Skype) I joined the guys from Greater Manchester Skeptics for their podcast Just Skeptics (Episode 12, apparently). It is now out – if you’re interested, you can listen to it here, or here, or even download it (free, of course) from the iTunes store.

You’ll have to excuse the heavy breathing, which I’m embarrassed to say was me. I’d never used a microphone headset before – I’d only installed Skype a day or two earlier – and I think the microphone distance needs adjusting. Or perhaps I’m just a heavy breather.

Anyway, if you do fancy checking it out, you can first hear us talking about “Charity mugging”, the phenomenon whereby you can’t walk twenty metres in a British town centre in the daytime without being accosted by someone trying to sign you up as a charity (direct debit) donor. Until the podcast I hadn’t heard that these “Chuggers” are often out-of-work actors.

We also discuss mad chemists, that hardy stereotype of the man in the white coat with the mad staring eyes. This was inspired by the UK Government’s “Crazy Chemist” anti-drug campaign – the one that got the Royal Society of Chemistry so hot under the collar.

And finally, at 24 minutes in, you can hear me having my “Soapbox” where I poke fun at Alternative Medicine. It’s not terribly original stuff, and will probably be fairly familiar to regular readers, but hopefully you might find some of it amusing.  This segment is followed by a discussion of similar themes, which runs for most of the rest of the podcast. It  concludes with the Richard Feynman reflexology story that you may remember from here.

Anyway, let me know what you think, especially if you stick it out all the way through.

PS Listening to the podcast I now notice a couple of minor factual inaccuracies on my part, notably giving the wrong name for something… ah well. Shows that talking off the cuff is not as easy as one might think. Try to spot the slip(s), if you like.

It’s three years of Spleen – anyone still out there?

September 22, 2010

In which Dr Aust is vaguely astonished he has kept going this long – and asks readers if they’d like to tell him who is (still) reading.

Amazingly, it is exactly three years today since Dr Aust’s Spleen went live, and three years and a day since the first major post, titled

“Patrick Holfords friend and mentors – but who are they exactly?”

Now, one has to beware of writing “blog landmark” posts, as they obviously:

(i) do not carry information of any great import except to you, the blogger;  and therefore

(ii) almost inevitably make you seem a self-important arse.  (I’m a University lecturer. What did you expect?)

Given this, I have avoided posting any others of this type since the first anniversary celebration. The second anniversary came and went a year ago, as did the 100,000th page load some time over this Summer, and also the 111,000th and the 111,111th. As a middle-aged cricket fan I was almost moved to comment on one or both of those last two, but inertia (rather than modesty) got the better of me.

Anyway, in the three years of the blog’s life, posts have appeared sporadically, but a count of ninety-three averages to somewhere between two and three a month – which probably exceeds what I would have predicted I would manage over the long haul. (I notice it was thirty posts in the first year of operation, so the yearly posting frequency has not changed). This Summer, though, things have been very slow, for which apologies.

Thanks for Commenting. Really.

There have also been 1600-odd (printable) comments on the blog – especially pleasing since I enjoy comments threads much more than actual blogs. Similarly, I find that these days I like the discussions and “unconference” bits of conferences more than the actual set-piece speeches. So I guess I am by nature a conversationalist rather than an essayist. Though perhaps a “monologue-within-conversation-alist” is closer to the truth.

[Alternatively, it might be that my attention span and ability to focus are shot to hell from too many nightly hours of frantic clicking round De Interwebz, like that nice Dr Greenfield keeps warning about.]

Still on the conversation theme, I am one of those people (apparently rare in the blogosphere) who tend to actually read all the way down long comments threads, at least if the topic is something I’m interested in. Perhaps this explains why I don’t actually blog so much. Anyway, even taking the view that several hundred of those 1600+ comments on the blog will have been written by me (!), it is still gratifying to see how many people have come by to comment over the three years. Blogging is, to my way of thinking, in large part a cyberspace conversation initiated by the post itself; so without the comments the whole thing would lose much of its point. This is a live issue at the moment, as talk in the blogosphere is that commenting on blogs generally is down, with some people attributing this to the “conversations” moving over to Twitter. I reckon there is some truth to this, which makes me all the more delighted that threads here still have comments and discussion.

There has also, of course, been a ton of spam, which outnumbers real comments about ten to one. Though thankfully the filters catch most of it.

Now, inevitably with time one does tend to get a bit stale as a blogger – or other sort of writer. I even spotted Gimpy opining the other day over at his Posterous site that perhaps bloggers ought to be compulsorily shut down after a certain number of posts.

“Maybe a solution is to have some sort of Logan’s Run style time limit on bloggers. After 5 years or 500 posts bloggers should retire….or be retired?”

..though of course he was saying this as a solution to the perceived problem of bloggers becoming too popular. Which is unlikely to be a problem here.

One approach to combat the staleness is to try to change things a bit every now and again. So for instance, a few months past the first anniversary I tried a Diary page (modelled fairly consciously on David Colquhoun’s one) which I updated sporadically for a year before I ran out of steam around last Christmas.

Or one could try to alter the subject matter a bit. In the first anniversary post I wrote:

“When I started [blogging] I did think I would try and blend science explaining in with the snarking, but I have the feeling that over the last six months or so snarking has become rather dominant. I’m not sure why. Perhaps, because explaining science is my day job, it is less attractive as an off-duty blog-hobby.”

I think the preponderance of snark over science has probably been maintained through years two and three – though looking over the posts, the ones that have tended to be most read were often the ones with the most scientific explanation-type content. So perhaps more science exposition would be a possibility.

Let’s hear from you. De-lurk!

And that last sentence brings me back to commenters. And to readers.

I was at a conference a few weeks ago where there was an extended discussion of science and the internet, including blogging. The subject of what audience one was writing for got an airing. One very well known science blogger offered the opinion that one of the best things he had ever done was to have an annual “delurk”  or Open Thread – basically one where he asked his readers to tell him something about themselves, so that he could get an idea of who his audience were.

So – over to you. Who are you (no real names, of course, unless you want to leave them – I mean things like profession and level of science education, if any), and why do you read the blog? And are there any things you would like more of, or less of? More science? Or less? Less pseudoscience and alternative medicine? More academic life? Did you like the currently-in-abeyance Diary?

Anyway, while I am thinking about what I could do in the way of renewal, all comments (as ever) gratefully received. Especially if  you are a reader-but-not-commenter-til-now.


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