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September 2016
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Help sought from US-based or US-knowledgeable folks - Which state should I put a university?

I'm working on a piece of fanfic which is essentially a university AU. I'm gathering together a group of diverse characters from various US states, and sending them to a fictional university, located in one of: Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Illinois, Nebraska, or Kansas.

Now, there are certain plot constraints on me with regards to this. Firstly, my characters come from a variety of US states - Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, California, New Mexico, New York. The majority of them don't have that much money (middle class income range), and aren't going to go too far from home for college unless there's a good reason to do so (scholarships, good reputation of the institution, good job prospects etc). I have a couple of wealthy outliers who are basically going there either as a result of parental interference, or because that's where all their friends wound up, and who don't particularly care about distance. I also have one low-income outlier (from Arkansas) who has wound up going there because he moved to the city this university is located in (a fictional city - so I need to be able to dump a city of about 200,000 - 500,000 people down in the state I choose as well, without distorting things too much) in order to find work. But the majority of my characters need to be within one or two states of their home state, purely for family reasons.

Other plot constraints:
* My character who moved to find work has some back-story which requires that he's in an "at will" state when it comes to employment (basically, he's been fired by a former employer on incredibly slim-to-nonexistent grounds).
* The state in question needs to have a rather flexible attitude toward non-heterosexual couples (it's fanfic, there's a lot of slashy pairings, I want somewhere my characters could realistically hold hands or be out and visibly "together" in public without getting beaten up for it). I'm planning on putting at least two gay clubs in the city the university is based in. (Kansas falls down badly in this regard).
* The state needs to have poor anti-stalking laws (there should be the recognition of stalking as a crime, but it shouldn't be taken overly seriously by the local law enforcement until it results in something like assault).
* I'd prefer not to be trying to make my fictional city usurp the role of an existing major city (I don't want to be, for example, substituting this city for Chicago in Illinois); I'd also prefer not to be writing this university as an existing university with the serial numbers filed off (mostly because my knowledge of US universities and colleges is basically what I've seen on television and in films from the eighties...).
* Since one of my characters is basically going to be present on a football scholarship, I'm wanting to put the university in a state where there aren't existing top-ranking teams, to explain why he's there rather than elsewhere.
* There needs to be the conceptual "space", so to speak, for the fictional university I'm writing about to be a top-flight institution, on a par with MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and so on academically.
* The university is going to have a policy which explicitly works to block under-age alcohol consumption (different coloured ID cards for students who aren't "of age", and a level of "town & gown" co-operation where it's understood by the local bartenders that if you serve someone who's under-age from this university, you're going to lose custom from the university) which are encouraged by the local law enforcement and civic authorities. (Which is where Missouri loses points)

So, what I'm after is any information from people who have more local knowledge than I do (Western Australian, never been anywhere near any of these places) which could help me make my choice. At present, my knowledge of these places is limited to what I've been able to pick up from scanning the general Wikipedia articles about them. Any help at all would be appreciated.

Edited to add: If you have any ideas about where else I could ask for assistance, that will be gratefully accepted as well.

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Current Mood: confused confused
More Garden Photos up on Instagram

I went out to Waldecks in Bentley today, and spent about $22 on some more plants for the garden. I got some flat leafed parsley and zucchini seedlings for the vegetable patch (if all the zucchini do well, expect to hear plaintive calls for zucchini recipes in a few months) and some pansies, a verbena and a "Royal Daphne" (Bouvardia longiflouum) for the existing front garden beds. At some point, I'm going to need to hire someone to dig up the front "lawn" on the left side of the path (scare quotes because as far as I'm concerned, a collection of scraggly couch grass does NOT count as a lawn) and help me put in some terraced beds.

But first, let me fill the beds I do have, before I go creating more of them. Once they're all over-flowing, then we can move onto something else.

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Current Mood: accomplished accomplished
Parents, Teachers, Schoolkids and The Homework Thing

Just been reading through some back issues of "The Secret Teacher" on teh Grauniad website, and one of the issues which comes up repeatedly is "homework" - essentially, teachers think it's No Big Deal, parents either complain there's too much, or too little, and the kids always think there's too much.

More under the fold )

As so often occurs, what truth and peace there is in the whole argument lies somewhere in between the extremes of it - or at least within the overlapping spaces in the argument's Venn diagram. Homework and home study skills are useful - but they're useful in the same way algebra, geometry, geography, and learning the finer points of diagramming sentences wind up being. Yes, they're massively useful if you're going into education as a profession; they're peripherally useful if you're thinking of going into an area where you'll need the practice at self-motivation, goal-setting, and meeting self-imposed targets. But for the vast majority of people, they're skills you learn in school, for school, and never need again throughout your working lifetime.

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Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
House & Garden updates and photos

(Just so everyone's aware, any photos of the garden are hosted at Instagram - the account is megpie71, same as usual).

Having had a couple of reasonably sunny days in a row, I got enough enthusiasm together this morning to head out and do some shopping for the house and the garden. For the house, or more particularly, for my bedroom, I went to Spotlight, and picked up a packet of that plastic-coated wire used for hanging curtains, and a sheer curtain to go on it (my bedroom window faces straight out into the street, and it's easy enough for anyone passing by to see straight in; I'd rather have the minor degree of privacy afforded by having a sheer curtain covering the window). For the garden, I headed down to Bunnings, and got a spade (or is it a shovel? Whichever of them has the square mouth, I got one of those), a swan-necked hoe, and a three-prong cultivator. I also bought a grafted black passionfruit vine, which I then planted out in the back garden.

I also planted out the three packets of bean seeds I'd brought with me from the last place. This comprised one unopened packet of "Purple King" climbing beans (which I planted out near the trellis) and a couple of half-used packets of green bush beans and yellow butter beans. They were all marked as "Use By AUG 2016", so we'll see whether or not they come up (I figure if they do, that's great; if they don't, well, no great loss).

There's photos on Instagram of the passionfruit vine, and the spots where I planted out the beans. Not much to look at for the moment, but I'm sure things will improve over time.

I also chucked another handful of snail bait into the mailbox, along with a fairly hefty scattering of the stuff on the ground below the mailbox. The aim being to eventually dissuade the snails from feasting on our letters, junk mail, and just about anything else which winds up being put in the mailbox. (Failing that, I shall settle for crushing up the snail shells and using them as a calcium supplement for the garden).

I've just been trying to cut the plastic covered wire (so I can put up the curtain) but ran into a minor snag... namely, that it's plastic covered wire, and I don't have any wire cutters to hand. So I shall have to wait for Steve to return home and beg the use of the ones on his Swiss Army Knife. First big setback of the day (*le sigh*).

Future plans include letting the plants be watered by the rain we're expecting tonight and tomorrow, and seeing if I can find me some information on how to do terraced garden beds for the long-term of the front garden (and the back, and probably the side alley as well). I also want to get my potted plants moved from the back paved space around to the front garden area, where I can keep a better eye on them. But that's going to be a gradual job (and may involve hiring or borrowing a hand-truck for the larger plants).

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Current Mood: accomplished accomplished
Garden update

I went and visited my parents yesterday, and picked up a collection of plants for our garden.

Long blatheration under fold )

(I'm considering the possibility of contemplating the idea of starting an Instagram account or something similar, so I can share pictures of this garden as I work on it. If only because I want to keep a record of what I've achieved).

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Current Mood: accomplished accomplished
State of the Meg Update

A few things have been happening lately.

To start with, Steve and I have moved house. We are now living in East Victoria Park, rather than Yangebup, having done most of the actual "heavy lifting" part of the move over the past week or so - officially, we've been moved in for a week (picked up the keys and signed the lease on the 22nd of this month), practically, we'll be here for a week come Monday (movers did the furniture shifting and such on the Monday morning).

The house we've moved into is an older place - I suspect it was built around the 1950s or 1960s as a worker's cottage, and it doesn't look as though it's been substantially renovated or upgraded since about the 1970s, when someone upgraded the kitchen and bathroom (to add an internal toilet, a bath/shower combination, and put in new benchtops/door fronts in the kitchen). Since then, the place has, I gather, been pretty constantly rented out, generally to students. The suspicion from the real estate agent is that the owners are waiting for the market to improve sufficiently, and then they're going to sell the place to a developer, who will put a bulldozer through the house and build at least three units, probably more, on the block.

(My guess is they have to wait for someone in their family to die off before they can sell, since quite frankly if that were going to be the case, they would have taken advantage of the last boom cycle in the local real-estate market).

The rent is $35 per week lower than the (subsidised) rent we were paying on the last place, and it looks it. External laundry space, an outside toilet, crumbling brickwork on the back steps down to the laundry, crumbling brickwork on the back steps down to the clothes line, and the entire place is pretty much over-run by oxalis (soursob). I have an interesting few months of garden work in front of me (starting with killing off the existing weed cover using the poor man's glyphosate - boiling water).

To add to the fun of the move, I wound up coming down with 'flu at the beginning of the final week in the Yangebup place (just what you need when you're moving house, right?). So I'm recovering from that while I continue with the whole business of unpacking and putting things away.

Steve is starting study at Curtin University (which is the reason we've moved - so he's closer to uni, and doesn't have to travel such a long distance for classes and such). I'm currently contemplating doing the same (he's studying full-time, I'm considering part-time), although for me the planned starting date would be first semester next year at the absolute earliest. As far as I'm concerned, there is absolutely no point in me contemplating study as a way of improving my employability (as a mentally ill, middle-aged woman who isn't particularly pretty, I have all the employability of a me-sized piece of granite as far as the average Australian employer is concerned), so if I do study, I'm going to do a course which is something I'm actually interested in.

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Current Mood: exhausted exhausted
Current Music: Birds in trees
Generalised Message For The Entire English-Speaking World In The Wake of Brexit

Rupert Murdoch is not our friend.

Rupert Murdoch is an ageing billionaire sociopath, who appears to believe the world will end when he finally dies, and is going to a great deal of trouble to ensure this is the case for all the rest of us, too. Rupert Murdoch's motto at present appears to be "apres moi, le deluge".

The only apocalyptic "End Times" approaching are those of Rupert Murdoch - he's 85, his father died at age 67, while his mother lived to 103. Which means he's pretty much reached the age of splitting the difference between the two and any year he gets after now is a gift. He is in his personal "end times" and he doesn't like it.

Rupert Murdoch's media properties (all of the News Limited newspapers in multiple countries, all of the Fox television stations in multiple countries, Sky TV in the UK, and so on) are generally not institutions which display a one-to-one correspondence with consensus reality. This means if you see something being heavily reported on Fox News, or in the Murdoch press, you should check with other sources to ensure you're getting the correct picture. Or indeed, whether there is actually a picture there to be getting - the Murdoch media does have a long history of making things up out of whole cloth in order to sell advertising space, and also of bouncing the same made-up story around their various international properties in order to give it creedence.

Please, don't trust them. They don't have your best interests at heart. They don't have anyone's interests at heart except those of Rupert Murdoch, and his primary interests are in acquiring power over world leaders and getting All The Money for himself.

So think about it: do you really want your life overturned because one cranky old man with a lot of money doesn't want to die and resents the fact it's inevitable?

If you can do nothing else, please fact-check what you're hearing from Fox, what you're hearing from News Limited, and what you're hearing from Sky. Find some source which isn't inside the Murdoch Media fold, and see whether they're reporting on the particular "crisis" of the week. Spread the news about what's actually happening out here in consensus reality, rather than in Murdoch-land. Tell people where you found counter-stories, and where you find your facts. Spread the news that there's more out there than what the Murdoch media is telling us.

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Current Mood: serious serious
Urgent Scam Warning: Subsidy Benefit UD4G, Australian DHS

I'm putting this one out there because they're using the DHS crest on the email, and they're asking for a LOT of identifying information. It's a scam. It's an identity theft scam. There is NO "subsidy benefit" being offered.

So email details:

From: Australian Government Department of Human Services <>
To: Me
Subject: [Bulk] Your 2016 Subsidy benefit - Code UD4G.
Reply To:

Email text below the fold )

What are the scam flags flying in this one?

Well, to start with, the Australian Department of Human Services doesn't actually directly supply ANY benefits, subsidies, pensions or other such payments. The DHS is essentially a wrapper department around a collection of government agencies which supply services to clients - Centrelink, Medicare, the Child Support Agency, CRS, and so on. If you get money administered through these agencies, it comes out of the budget of the DHS, but you will never actually deal with the DHS directly - it's always through a subsidiary agency.

Secondly, if you're being sent a genuine email from the DHS, it's more likely to come through your My.Gov account than direct to your email box. This is because My.Gov is a DHS service supplying secure email and gateway services to their subsidiary agencies. They want people to use My.Gov, so they're going to push that. If this was genuine, what I would have received would have been a little note in my INBOX (not my "Junk" folder) telling me that I had a message in my My.Gov inbox.

Thirdly, no matter how tight the Australian government gets with the funds, no Australian government department is going to be wanting replies to be sent to a throw-away freemail account in Germany.

Fourthly: note the items being asked for in the email. You're being asked for identifying information - your name, your address, your tax file number, your tax details (and by asking for superannuation or dividend statements they're asking for details about your investments, too), and also your bank account details. This is an attempt at identity theft, straight up.

There is no 2016 Subsidy Benefit, there is only a scammer wanting to impersonate you. If you give them your details, the people you'll be notified by shortly will be your bank, your investments and the ATO (and they'll all be telling you you're suddenly a lot poorer than you used to be).

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Current Mood: annoyed annoyed
Skinner Boxes: Reviews from a Pigeon

For those who are confused about the title, a Skinner Box is a piece of behavioural psychology experimental equipment - basically it's a box with a button (or lever), and slot by which a reward is delivered (usually food). You put an animal such as a pigeon or a rat in there, and the original experiment was to find out what worked to get the animal to push the button on a consistent basis. Turns out inconsistent reward is the secret to getting the most consistent button pushing.

This knowledge has been put to good use by the designers of various flash-based and mobile games (not to mention the designers of slot machines and other such gambling games) for human use. You keep the pigeon pushing the button, and hint the frequency of the reward might be greater if they, for example, prime the pump by contributing a few extra dollars, and voila! You have a money-making machine right there.

I decided in a fit of boredom to get involved with a couple of different Skinner box style games over the course of the Easter weekend. One of them I'm still playing, the other I've largely left alone. The games were the Android version of Marvel Avengers Academy (AA), and the browser game GoodGame Big Farm (BF).

Now, both of these games require you to click on things and set events in motion, and then wait a certain amount of time for those events to complete, then collect your reward. Some events are fairly fast - two to three minutes. Others can be eight to ten hours long. In both cases, you can speed up the progress of whatever you're doing by purchasing the in-game premium currency (Infinity Shards in AA, Gold in BF) and using that to fast-forward through things. Of course, in both games, the premium currency is given out in dribs and drabs as a reward for gaining enough experience to go up a level (about 4 shards per level in AA, about 50 gold per level for BF) but you can get access to more by spending real-world currency to purchase the premium currency through their store.

(The stores largely sell this currency for round amounts of US dollars. I'm not in the USA, and the Australian dollar is not doing too well against the US dollar at present. Plus I'm on the dole, which means my spare income is not so much minimal as non-existent. I haven't been seriously tempted by either of them).

The reward for completing tasks is usually the in-game standard currency (or something you can sell to receive the in-game standard currency in BF), and possibly a few collectible bibs and bobs which go toward helping your heroes get some special character or perform some special action. In AA, you can get textbooks (which help you acquire new characters) or Pym Particles (which help you clean up the debris on new areas so you can place more buildings and create more facilities), as well as whichever bits of tat (I've seen Jetpack upgrades and Asgardian jewellery so far) are required to get your new character on side. In BF, you get various collectible bits and pieces which can help with generating collective missions, or earning various bits and pieces to decorate your farm. The rate at which you get these things is inconsistent and hard to predict (although the tasks which take longer will tend to drop more), and there's the "inconsistent reward" part of the Skinner box.

Now, of the two, I find I'm much more comfortable with AA - I can set my characters to doing something that will take 30 minutes, 2 hours, 4 hours, 8 hours, and just switch the tablet off (or set it to charge, which takes about 5 hours) or go to sleep, and check back in again when I have a bit of a break and pick up my rewards. There's only been one time-limited task (recruiting Pepper Potts as Rescue - and for that one, you pretty much had to spend real cash to buy shards, because the in-game time limits weren't achievable[1]) in the game so far, and that means there's no pressure to be constantly checking every few hours. It isn't anxiety-making, and for me, that's a good thing.

BF, by contrast, is one time-limited short-term task after another after another, and to meet the goals for those tasks, you pretty much have to be sitting and watching your farm constantly, and calculating whether or not you're going to be able to meet the goals they're setting. I got to the point where my mood was suffering (I have depression with co-morbid anxiety, which means anything which makes me anxious triggers the depression) and where I was starting to feel stressed out by the pressure of keeping up with the game. To the point where I wound up making a folder specifically for the bookmark for the game so it wasn't sitting there in my "visited often" list reproaching me. I'm tempted to head back to it today, but I doubt I will. The game is, for me at least, a worse time-sink than TV Tropes, and RationalWiki combined, and it doesn't leave much time around the edges of things for doing anything else. I don't know about other people, but I have a life outside my web browser.

The other big difference for me is AA has another source of inconsistent reinforcement - it has an interesting storyline, which gets advanced when you perform certain tasks, and which acts as the equivalent of an ongoing serial. So I find it's easy to get into a routine with that game - log in, collect the rewards from the last lot of tasks, catch up with whichever new bits of story have been generated by those, do the easy (short-term) tasks for each character (and pick up rewards as available), then get them going on the longer-term stuff (prioritising who gets to do what if there's a clash). It's also worth noting if you have the same activity on multiple quests, you only have to do it once - so if, for example, I have Tony Stark required to get in repulsor practice on the firing range for two different quests, provided I've opened both quests, one fifteen-minute bout of repulsor practice will get the job crossed off on both. So if, for example, I have Black Widow required to research at the Archives for two hours for three different quests, while Tony Stark is required to do archive research for eight hours for one, Black Widow gets priority.

So, of the two games, I'd argue for me, Avenger's Academy is the more successful Skinner Box, in that it'll keep me coming back in the long term. I don't mind the long waits between each activity, and I also don't mind the slow pace. The storyline is enough to keep me going for now. Big Farm, by contrast, is a bit too frenetic and busy for my liking - the rewards aren't worth the stress of constantly pushing the buttons.

[1] Once I realised this, I stopped worrying. Establishing a task as impossible always makes things a lot easier.

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Current Mood: geeky geeky
Scam Alert - "Job" scam - "The Brit Method"

From: Eliza Wilson (
Subject: [Bulk] We are looking for [my email address here]
Reply-To: [none listed]
Addressed to Me: yes

scam body under fold )

Okay, as per usual the standard "job" scam flags are flying with this one - contacting me out of the blue in a declining economy, promising large sums of money for very little work.

Googling "the Brit Method" comes up with a whole page basically saying it's a stock market scam. I'm not going to be duplicating someone else's efforts here, but be aware, anything which is selling itself as a "method" for playing the stock market is about as reliable as any other "method" for making heaps of money by gambling (horses, poker, casinos, you name it - the stock market is just another gambling venue). That is to say, the most reliable way to make money from such things is to be the person selling the "method" to gullible suckers.

If you've received one of these, just delete it. Don't click on the links, and don't believe the promises of lots of money. The only people making money out of this scheme are the people selling it.

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Current Mood: calm calm
Scam Alert - 419 Type - Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, Nana Owusu Addo

From: Nana Owusu Addo (admin@GOODONATES.COM)
Subject: [Bulk] IT MIGHT INTEREST YOU...
Addressed to: Recipients (admin@GOODONATES.COM)

Scam body below fold )

Another invitation to commit fraud from complete strangers. How wonderful.

The most obvious plot hole in this whole thing is the whole "as civil servants, we are forbidden to operate a foreign account" - I suspect if they look closely at their contracts, they'll also find as civil servants they're forbidden to defraud the taxpayers of Ghana. This doesn't appear to be stopping them from doing so.

As always, it's a scam, a fraud, and if you let these people have access to your bank account, they'll either a) use it as an invitation to vaccuum all the money out of it; or b) ask you to forward "small sums" to be used to pay administration fees, bank charges, etc etc etc. I'd be suspecting the first, since their breakdown of the "payout" involves a certain amount put aside to cover costs (although I still wouldn't rule out the second, since scammers gonna scam). Asking for three working weeks (15 working days) is just giving them lots of time to get away after they've finished extracting the money from your bank account(s).

If you are going to succumb to this damn silly fraud, might I suggest going to a bank you don't usually do business with, opening a throw-away account with a balance of maybe $10, and giving those details to the scammers? That way, if they ARE up to no good (and let's be realistic here - anyone who asks you on no acquaintance whatsoever to help them commit massive fraud against the people of their own country isn't really on the side of the angels) the most you're going to be out is the $10 you've sacrificed on the throw-away account.

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Current Mood: irritable irritable
Job/Make Money Fast Scammer -, Samuel Adams

From: (Samuel Adams)
Subject: [Bulk] This will BLOW YOUR MIND
Addressed to me: Yes.

Message body below fold )

Okay, to start with this snaps out the big scam flag of "trying to hook me through greed". $4115.75 per day is over $514 per hour (which is a ridiculous hourly rate for ANYTHING) or over $20,000 per week, and it sounds frankly unrealistic no matter which way you try to slice it. For zero experience or expertise? Nope, that definitely reads like someone is trying to trick me.

So I went digging around on the web. All the links in the original (which I haven't reproduced here) lead to a domain called - and strangely enough, there's not much information around about them. They've only been registered since 01 FEB 2016, and are apparently hosted in Pasadena, California (the address in New York state is for the company they got their mailing list from - What little information I can find points possibly to them being about distributing malware, and/or phishing.

Have to admit, it doesn't tempt me to click on those links. If you get one of these (or anything else from I'd suggest dropping it straight into the bit-bucket.

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Current Mood: blah blah
Scam Alert - 419 "Abandoned Package" scam - Mr James Dee, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport A

From: Mr James Dee (
Addressed to me: No

Scam body under fold )

As with the previous example of this particular genre, I'll note this even at its most straightforward, this email contains an invitation to commit a crime (namely, bribery of an official - Mr Dee is asking for a share of the money in order to "assist" you. Presumably if you don't, he'll find a few dozen obstacles to place in your way). Nice people don't generally ask you to do things on first acquaintance that could result in jail time.

There are still all the same plot-holes in the story as there were in the previous example - why would a UN diplomat based in the UK be sending large sums of money to an insignificant housewife in Australia? Why, if the consignment note has my name and details on it, was the package not just forwarded to me C.O.D? Why has this been shipped from JFK airport in New York to an airport warehouse in Atlanta, for crying out loud? And given Mr Dee apparently knows the contents of the containers aren't what's on the declaration label, how do I know he hasn't already gone in there and taken what he considers to be "his share" of the money before even contacting me? (Oh, and why, if he's working for a government organisation, is he trying to get me to reply to him via a throw-away gmail address?)

The containers don't exist (or if they do, they're filled with blank paper, old newsprint, or at best Monopoly money). Don't send this scammer any of your details, or any of your money.

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Current Mood: apathetic apathetic
Scam - 419 Type - "Mrs Connie Dutton"

My junk mail folder is filling up with scams again. Oh darn, I shall just have to start writing about them once more.

Oh the hardship.

Today's candidate is a pretty bog-standard 419 scam.

Subject: [Bulk] Hoping to hearing from you soon
Addressed to me: Nope!

Scam content under fold )

Okay, scam markers:

1) Long, involved sob story, written in ungrammatical English, and poorly proof-read.

2) Large sum of money (although in these days of low inflation and low investment returns, eight million is pretty small beer).

3) If this woman is such a devoted Christian, why isn't she giving the money to her church? Doesn't she trust her pastor? Why isn't she donating the money (off her own bat) to the various charities which already exist now to serve the causes she's listing? Why isn't she taking this through a professional financial planner or investment adviser, rather than a random chump on the internet?

4) Different addresses in the reply-to field of the sent email, and the body text.

The most sensible option is not to reply to these people at all. This email is basically setting up the sucker for the next move in several con games - and the most likely is the advance fee fraud, where you'll be asked to send an "administration fee" to the scammer (just so they can pass it on to their bank, to get the money to you, you understand). Of course, this first fee won't be enough, and you'll have to send more money to the scammer to cover other fees and charges; and of course, "Mrs Dutton" will probably wind up needing help with her medical costs, because she won't have planned for those; then there's the inevitable point in the whole thing where she dies, and you'll need to pay "funeral expenses" or "death duties" on the money you still won't have received...

As always, these things are designed to hook you through a combination of greed and arrogance. The way to win is not to play. So, don't reply, and pass the message about it being a scam on to all your friends.

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Current Mood: indescribable indescribable
On Working For the Dole.

So, I've been unemployed for six months (according to Centrelink, anyway). Which means, lucky me, I'm due to start my "Work For The Dole Phase" of the whole glorious process of being unemployed in Australia in the 21st century.

For those not in the know, "work for the dole" was an idea conceived back in the era of John Howard, by Liberal Party policy-makers who wanted to bring back the workhouses, but who didn't fancy the idea of having to shell out money to feed, house and clothe the undeserving poor (i.e. anyone on an activity-tested Centrelink payment[1]). Basically, in order to impress on the long-term unemployed how important it is they find paying work, they're required to perform up to twenty-five hours a week of compulsory, unpaid[2] volunteer work in order to be able to continue receiving their dole payment. I suspect whoever came up with this one must have woken up in the night and hugged themselves with glee[3].

Luckily for me, I'm on a part-time activity test (mental illness, such fun). I only have to do sixteen hours a fortnight worth of whatever the current equivalent of picking oakum, washing bottles, pasting labels or sorting rags is. Normally, the requirement is for fifteen hours a week for someone my age, twenty-five for someone younger. In my case, I'm going to be transcribing old (hand-written) court records from turn-of-the-century-NSW (i.e. early 1900s). Years of translating my mother's appalling medical handwriting into something legible has finally come in useful.

Basically, this sort of thing is supposed to... well, I have no idea what it's supposed to do. Punish me for the sin of not being in employment, one presumes. I have the site induction on Thursday, I suppose I get to find out then whether I'm supposed to be wearing sackcloth and rubbing ashes into my hair to show repentance, flagellating myself with a cat-o'-nine-tails, or whether just walking around wearing a sandwich board that says "I'm SO FUCKING SORRY" will do.

Yes, I am a bit cranky about this.

I'm cranky about it, because it's a bit of deliberate humiliation on the part of a government which has an ideological agenda, and will do anything in its power to get that agenda implemented. I'm cranky about it because I'm being forced into performing unpaid labour in order to ensure wage earners are frightened into accepting lower wages and lower conditions in order to avoid being put into this situation. I'm cranky about it because the penalties for missing work, or not being able to perform whatever work I'm supposed to be doing on the day I'm supposed to be doing it, are all on me (yes, even if my erstwhile "employer" doesn't have enough work for me to be doing, or the computers are down, or the office gets hit by a meteor falling from the sky).

Oh, and I still have to keep looking for 20 jobs a month, same as before. That doesn't change, either. About the only positive thing to note about the whole mess is that since the place I'm going to be physically doing my Work for the Dole placement is the offices of my JobActive provider, I'll be able to drop off my monthly lists with a lot less carry-on.

[1] Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, and Special Benefit.
[2] If your "volunteering" is organised through your JobActive provider, you get an extra $20 per fortnight on your dole payment to cover costs incurred (transport, lunches etc). If it isn't, you don't. There's a LOT of encouragement to find your own "volunteer work".
[3] A bit of googling reveals it was the brain-child of Tony Abbott. I must remember to write him a thank-you note.

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location: At home
Current Mood: cranky cranky
Current Music: The whistle of the steam coming out of my ears
The Daftness of the "Toilet" Argument

The "toilet" argument is the one which says "of course trans* and gender-queer people shouldn't be allowed to use the lavatories appropriate to their preferred gender presentation" because somehow women will get their modesty affronted by having a person with a penis in the ladies room. I always get stunned by this argument, mostly because it shows a degree of wilful blindness to some necessary differences between masculine and feminine public hygiene set-ups which really needs to be addressed.

So, for the benefit of all those guys who haven't been in the ladies' lavs since they were tiny tackers escorted there by their mums, here is a description of the average set-up of every single women's public toilet block I've ever been in for as long as I can remember:

Long and involved description under the fold )

So, to be honest, I absolutely fail to see how anyone's modesty is going to be affronted by someone who is trans-female, or female-identifying-today gender-queer, getting into the queue to use the stalls in the ladies. No matter what their (or your) individual plumbing hook-up appears to be, nobody else is going to be able to see it in use, or be offended by its presence.

I mean, on the other hand, if the people who are worried about the prospect of trans* or gender-queer people using the appropriate lavatories for their identifying gender are men worrying a trans-man or a male-identifying-today gender-queer person is going to go into the gentlemen's lavs and snigger at the willies on display at the urinals... well, just say so, guys. (And maybe use the stalls to pee). But please, don't push the whole mess over onto the women and feminine modesty.

(Oh, and if anyone who is trans-negative and female-identifying wants to explain to me either: a) exactly why and how their modesty is/would be affronted by a trans* or gender-queer person using the ladies' lavs at the same time as them; or b) how they'd know if a person in one of the other stalls was a trans* or gender-queer person; or even c) why they can't just deal with their problem by waiting for the trans* or gender-queer person to finish their business and leave; then feel free to do so in the comments.)

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Current Mood: quixotic quixotic
Job Seeker Advice: Polite Firms - Month ending 03 FEB 2016

This is going to be a regular thing, I think. These are the employers who have bothered to contact me to let me know I wasn't successful in obtaining work with them. I figure they're the polite sorts, so I want to give them a bit of free advertising to encourage this kind of behaviour a bit more widely.

  • Golden Egg Farms (egg suppliers)
  • Fleetcare (corporate/government fleet management & maintenance)
  • Practice Insight Pty Ltd (medical services)
  • Rockingham Psychology (psychological services)

If you have need of any of the services listed above, and you're in the Perth metro area, why not give those businesses a try?

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Current Mood: calm calm
I Can Just *Tell* It's Going To Be One Of Those Days...

Had a very poor night's sleep last night (had trouble going to sleep due to the heat; woke up during the night overheated and dehydrated, and couldn't get back to sleep for over an hour; got jolted awake again by leg cramps about a half an hour before my alarm was due to go off). I'm currently sitting here experiencing one of my warning signs for gastro-intestinal distress (burping up gas which sort of tastes like bacon as it passes over my tongue). I have an appointment with my Job Active provider at 9am (which I am NOT looking forward to, because they're about as useless as tits on a bull, and they're intended to be this useless as a point of government policy). Oh, and I got another letter in my email from the nice people at Moton Group "offering" me a "job", as well as two email letters from the latest iteration of the "LKT Company" scam (the company has changed its name and now calls itself "Nocturne", and refers to itself as "fast-growing", but the other particulars are pretty much the same).

The signs are not positive. Unfortunately my preferred remedy (going back to bed, pulling the sheet over my head and pretending today doesn't exist) is not available (see: appointment at 9am). So I'll need to head to plan B - bull through things.

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Current Mood: cranky cranky
Cheeky Fuckers! (The Employment Scammers Strike Again) - "LKT Company"

The fake job scammers are at it again. This time, they're sending stuff out under my email address! How do I know this? Well, I woke up this morning to discover I had an inbox full of delivery failure notices.

So here's the ad body:

scam body )

The bits in square brackets are where the script which sends these things out picks from a list of options to "personalise" the emails. Essentially, one of those options is chosen for each version of the mail at random (where there's only one option, the text itself is optional), in order to bypass spam filters on the servers they're hijacking to get their "message" out (the spam filters are looking for large amounts of similar text; the programs which generate these emails are evolving in lock-step with the filtering programs. If you're ever looking for a good locus for emergent AI, consider the possibilities of email filtering and spam blocking software, and the stuff designed to get around it!).

Now, the email address to check for "more details" varies with each of the letters - here's a list of the selection I have, if you're wanting to know what to beware of:

List below fold )

The Subject lines also vary. Again, here are the ones I have available from the sample of delivery failure notices.

List below fold )

(Incidentally - this is why keeping track of the subject lines and body text of these emails is a bit of a waste of time. The body text is boilerplate, the subject line is randomised.)

On to the scam flags flying:

1) They're offering too much. For full-time work, they're offering "up to" $5900AUD per month, which is $295 per day, or $36.88 per hour, plus bonuses, for largely unskilled admin work. Note the "up to" there - that's the theoretical maximum you could earn in a month. The actual amount you'll be paid is probably much lower, if, indeed,you're likely to be paid at all, rather than having your accounts hoovered out.

2) A lot of the details essential to a standard job ad are missing or skimped. There's no mention of who the company is in quite a lot of the ads (because it doesn't exist), there's no listing of what kinds of skills and experience they're looking for (because the main skill or quality they're after is gullibility). The contact address is a hotmail throw-away account with no reference to the name of the company either (which is a rather severe mismatch to the story of a company which is big enough to be trading with clients in the USA, Europe and Asia, especially given the comparatively low cost of domain names and domain hosting).

3) The economy world-wide is largely contracting. You can hear the economic gloom and doom forecasts any time you turn on the TV or radio, or any time you look at a news article online or in a newspaper. In that kind of economic environment, employment becomes harder to get - there is a surplus of people looking for work, and a deficit of available employment for them to participate in. In such an economy, there is no need for a legitimate employer to reach out to random people on the internet if they're seeking employees. Indeed, most job ads I'm looking at these days say they're only going to be contacting the successful candidates for interviews, due to the sheer volume of replies.

4) Googling "LKT Company" brings up at least two scam warnings already. This is always something of a hint. About the only difference between the current "jobs" being offered and the previous scam is that the amount of money has been increased by $100AUD on each level.

5) They hijacked my flippin' email account to send these things out! (I grant you, that one's a bit of a personal thing). Needless to say I've altered my password. But if you EVER receive a job offer purporting to be sent from megpie71 at yahoo dot com dot ay you, it's guaranteed to be a scam. I don't do HR, and if I did do HR, I would be sending things out under a corporate email address, not from my private email.

There isn't a job open, the money doesn't exist, and if they had anything decent to offer they wouldn't need to be hijacking other people's email addresses in order to pass the message on.

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Vale David Bowie

I have a ... complicated relationship with the music of David Bowie. For one thing, I'm about ten years too young to remember him at his best. I was too young for Ziggy Stardust, and the one song of his that stuck with me from that period was "A Space Oddity", which to be honest, freaked me out (and still does - I mean, it's a song about a man dying in space, it's terrifying!). So the music of his I remember best is the stuff from his "Thin White Duke" period, which was, unfortunately, his period of proving (as so many people did back then) that while cocaine gives you heaps of energy and drive, it doesn't do shit for your creativity. The eighties had a lot of that, unfortunately. The few songs which stick with me from that period ("Ashes to Ashes", "Blue Jean" and "China Girl") all had the same quality of pretty much weirding me out, while I felt the video clips were a bit overly pretentious in their level of theatrics. By the time I was old enough to really be paying attention to Bowie, he'd already passed his prime and moved into "pop music icon" territory, performing duets of cover versions of sixties pop songs with Mick Jagger and so on. So I think I really missed a lot of what he was "about", so to speak.

As I got older, I could admire a lot of what he was doing in his earlier stuff from a more detached, intellectual fashion - he did some interesting things with theatricality and the concepts of theatre, gender, identity, stardom and so on. Indeed, I tend, these days, to regard a lot of his stuff as almost Brechtian - he made people question concepts which had seemed rock-solid, and showed alternative ways of looking at various ideas which hadn't been previously considered. But I wasn't "there", so to speak, and I really didn't have the same sort of connections to his work that a lot of other people did.

I can admire him as a cultural icon - he was the most successful of the "glam" rockers long-term, and his ability to re-invent his public persona was unparalleled. Indeed, his abilty to re-invent his public persona was arguably a major factor in his long-term success - by the time the public was starting to get bored with a particular persona, he'd already done so, and moved on to something else. To me, in a lot of ways, he fits in the same cultural "box" as Spike Milligan - never quite comfortable with the world as it existed, and always seeking to try and find a way of explaining the way he saw it to people who weren't him.

He was fascinating, but I never really "got" him. I'm sad he's died, but the sadness is like the admiration - detatched, impersonal, and if I'm mourning at all, it's for the loss of another cultural icon, rather than for the loss of a person. My sympathies to his family, and may they find peace.

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