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What Went Right - 29 DEC 2016

Three stories about "what went right" (as opposed to "what went wrong") from my mainstream media feeds.

(If you're looking for these sorts of stories yourself, what I've found is you're likely to find more of them in your local news than in the national or international news, unless it's a particularly slow news day. So start close to home, and see what you can find in your local, city, or state papers first, before moving on to the national or international ones).

WACE exam results posted online a day early to 'put students' minds at ease', SCSA says by Hayley Roman (ABC Western Australia)

The School Curriculum and Standards Authority managed to get everything together in time to publish the results of the Western Australian Certificate of Excellence (Year 12/end of high school/leaving) exams a day early - so they did this, in order to ease the worries of students who were waiting for their results.

Man finds long-lost brother by chance in Noosa cafe by Judy Adair ("Tall Tales and True" podcast, ABC Radio).

A story about adoption, and about finding family in unexpected places.

Sweden's ice hotel by Tracey Shelton (freelance contributor, ABC Australia).

Every year since 1989, sculptors have built an ice hotel in Swedish Lapland, and every year with the coming of spring, the hotel melts back into the river which birthed it. This year they're trying something a bit different.

(This article is in a wide format, if you're reading on a narrow device, or using a browser with a "bookmarks bar" at the side - as I do - be aware of this).

So, there's my three stories for the day. If you've found something about "what went right" in your news feeds, drop a link in the comments. I think of this sort of thing as a candle against the darkness - one candle on its own can't do much, but many together can light and warm the world.

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Current Mood: good good
What Went Right - 28 DEC 2016

Another three stories from the mainstream media of things "going right" as opposed to "going wrong".

Remote ammonia plant shipping fertiliser to the world by Eliza Wood (WA Country Hour, ABC Western Australia).

A profile of the Yara Pilbara ammonia plant, which uses hydrogen gas sourced from the North West Shelf natural gas fields to create liquid ammonia for use in fertiliser and urea creation.

Missing woman, girl found five kilometres from where car was bogged in Kimberley by ABC Western Australia

Two people who went missing after the car they were travelling in became bogged have been found, in reasonable health. They're reported as being taken to Derby Hospital for a check-up, and "extremely thankful" for the searchers from police, State Emergency Services, and other volunteers who found them.

My Disability Matters: The social media site helping to connect people with disabilities by Felicity Ogilvie (AM, ABC Australia).

A profile of the My Disability Matters website (a site designed by a person who is vision-impaired for people with disabilities), briefly explaining about the site and the ways people use it, as well as providing a link to another article about the site (and from there, a link to the site itself).

So, there's my three for the day. If you've found anything in your various news feeds about things going right, why not pop a link to it in the comments? Alternatively, if you're doing something similar yourself, please, share a link.

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Current Mood: accomplished accomplished
What Went Right - 27 DEC 2016

Once again, three stories from the mainstream media about "what went right", rather than "what went wrong".

Grain growers to benefit from WA whisky distillery expansion by Tyne Logan (ABC Rural, Western Australia).

A boutique distillery in the Great Southern region of Western Australia is expanding their operations by purchasing an old winery in the Porongorup region, with plans to convert this into their head office and main distillery.

WWII bomb is defused in German town of Augsburg on Christmas Day by Associated Press (through ABC Australia)

32,000 households had been evacuated from central Augsburg by 10am on Christmas Day in order for the defusing to take place, and they were given the all-clear at 7pm local time.

'This is possible. We did it': the week Portugal ran on renewables by Sam Jones (Guardian)

Portugal's renewable energy power plants managed to power the entire country for four and a half days earlier this year, giving evidence renewable sources of energy are able to work as the backbone of a country's energy infrastructure.

So there's my three for the day. If you've found any stories of things going right in your news reading, why not share them in the comments?

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Current Mood: contemplative contemplative
What Went Right 26 DEC 2016

Once again, three stories from the mainstream media about 'what went right' as opposed to what went wrong.

Eden's quirky tradition during the Sydney to Hobart by Jessica Haynes (ABC New South Wales)

The coastal town of Eden in south-east NSW is practically the last landfall possible for yachts involved in the Sydney to Hobart race which have to pull out early. The town "celebrates" this with their own tongue-in-cheek trophy for the first boat to make landfall there.

Christmas Lunch in the Park for Perth's less fortunate sees 2,300 gather for spectacular feast by Hayley Roman (ABC Western Australia)

Covering Mission Australia's "Christmas Lunch in the Park" event, which is volunteer-run, and now in its 41st year of operation.

'Muslims for Peace': Islam group letterboxes Hobart to counter One Nation, Reclaim Australia by Sallese Gibson (ABC Tasmania)

Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Tasmania have delivered leaflets to houses in Hobart in order to spread understanding and reduce hatred.

There's my three for the day. If you've found any stories about things which have "gone right", I'd appreciate it if you shared them in the comments.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

Current Mood: calm calm
What Went Right 25 DEC 2016

Three stories from the mainstream media about things which 'went right' rather than 'going wrong'.

Christmas food can pose risks to some pets, animal hospital warns by David Weber (ABC Western Australia)

Some warnings and advice about what to avoid with regards to your pets during the festive season.

Christmas: South Australians support charities, recreate the nativity and Jews celebrate Hanukkah by ABC South Australia

A discussion of various seasonal celebrations in South Australia, including Hanukkah (which doesn't usually get much publicity in Australia).

The 11-step guide to being a good guest by Annalisa Barbieri (Guardian)

A guide to how to be a pleasant guest, and do the right things yourself.

So there's my three for the day. If you have any other 'things going right' stories you'd like to share, pop 'em in the comments.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

Current Mood: cheerful cheerful
What Went Right 24 DEC 2016

Today's three stories of "things which went right" (as opposed to going wrong) from the mainstream media.

CBH predicts possible 16 million tonne crop for WA as deliveries slow by Tara de Landgrafft (WA Country Hour, ABC Western Australia)

A story analysing the grain crop from Western Australia, and reflecting on the highlights and lowlights of this years' harvest according to the CBH (Cooperative Bulk Handling) co-operative.

How to bin Christmas responsibly: A guide to what you can and can't recycle by Emma Wynne (720 ABC Perth, ABC Western Australia)

An article aimed at Australians, about what can and can't be safely dumped into the recycling bins this Christmas.

Australian kids draw 'welcome' artworks for newly-arrived migrants and refugees by ABC Australia.

"The ABC's television news program, Behind the News (BtN)— in conjunction with non-partisan not-for-profit group Welcome to Australia — invited kids in September to send in original artwork that illustrates what people loved most about living in this country." They received over 12,000 hand-drawn colour pictures from Australian kids, with a message of "welcome".

So, there's my three for the day. As always, if you have any stories about "what went right" which have popped up on your news feed, drop them in the comments.

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Current Mood: hopeful hopeful
What Went Right - 23 December 2016

Today's three pieces from the mainstream media about "what went right".

Solar switch for one of Australia's biggest companies funded by community by Ursula Malone (ABC Western Australia)

A solar investment firm is buying solar panel arrays, leasing them to companies, and selling them the power produced by the solar panels. After seven years, the firm which is leasing the panels gets to keep them.

Ebola vaccine is safe and effective, scientists declare after trials by Sarah Boseley, Health Editor (Guardian).

A vaccine effective against ebola has been created and trialled in West Africa, and looks to be effective in preventing the spread of the disease.

Meet the people working this Christmas Day by ABC News Breakfast (ABC Victoria)

A profile of five people who are going to be working on Christmas Day (despite the public holiday), for various reasons.

So there's my three for the day (it took a bit of searching today, which is understandable - not every day is a "slow news" day where these sorts of stories percolate up onto the pages). As always, if you have anything to share, drop it in the comments.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

Current Mood: calm calm
Today's Bit of Schadenfreude

Christensen threatens to leave Coalition amid fears Bernardi may form own party

Not so much the article, rather the comment thread below it - which is so far up to about nineteen pages of the equivalent of "Jump, you bastard! JUMP!" and "Don't let the door hit your arse as you leave".

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Current Mood: cynical cynical
What Went Right - 22 December 2016

Once again, three "what went right" stories from the mainstream media.

A doctor's honest account of losing his first patient by Judy Adair (ABC Radio).

Content warnings on this one for a visceral description of CPR, and for the death of a human being.

This one is being included despite the subject matter, because what it's actually about is being human. It's about a doctor recalling the first time a patient he was treating died, how he felt at the time, and what he feels he learned from the experience - which was that doctors have to be emotionally involved in the care they're giving, or else they risk becoming mere technicians, treating human bodies as though they're malfunctioning machines. Which is, I think, the correct lesson to have learned.

(Just because it went right doesn't mean it has to be either comfortable or nice).

Best of 2016: Get a dose of the best feel-good stories of the year by ABC Queensland.

An omnibus collection of "feel good" stories. Not everything which happened in 2016 was terrible, and the impression it was is something I'm trying to counteract with this project.

WA police officer plays Santa's helper, tracking down recipient of lost Christmas present by Edwina Seselja (ABC Western Australia).

This one has two things going right - someone found a lost Christmas present on the road near Roebourne (in North-West Western Australia) and handed it in to the local police station. Then the Senior Constable on duty was able to use his local knowledge to remember a child with the right name, who had received a road safety award earlier in the year, and return the present to the correct family.

So there's today's helping. If any of my readers have stories about things going right from their local media they'd like to share, drop them in the comments.

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Current Mood: tired tired
What Went Right - 21 December 2016

Another three stories about things going right, or people doing the right thing, and so on.

Perth Zoo residents get Christmas treats in food hide-and-seek by Charlotte Hamlyn (ABC, Western Australia)

A feel-good story about the animals in Perth Zoo getting some extra treats (and enrichment activities associated with them) from their keepers. As the keeper interviewed points out, it's not just zoo animals who can benefit from this sort of thing - household pets can also benefit from having a bit of extra think-work to do in order to get treats, keeping them mentally active.

Meet the rebel road fixers making Malaysia's roads safer by Jami Blakkarly (Radio National, ABC).

A group of people who are concerned about the condition of Malaysian roads have decided to do their bit to prompt action by undertaking "guerrilla" pothole fixes.

Holly the penguin reunited with colony near Manly, after Sydney drain rescue by Nicole Chettle (ABC, New South Wales)

A baby Little Penguin, found walking up a drain in Haberfield, Sydney, has been re-united with the colony she came from.

So, there's my three for the day. Anyone got anything to add to the mix? Put any stories about "what went right" into the comments.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

Current Mood: warm warm
What Went Right - 20 December 2016

Another three looks at things which went right (as opposed to "going wrong") as reported by the mainstream media. As always, if you have something you've found in your local media stream which fits the bill, pop it in the comments.

One thing I'm finding when doing this is I'm paying more attention to my news feeds, rather than ignoring them for days at a stretch - I'm looking harder, and searching a bit more for those elusive "what went right" stories.

The best Australian books of 2016: writers choose their favourites by Briohny Doyle, Andy Griffiths, Jane Harper, Hannah Kent, Melina Marchetta, Martin McKenzie-Murray, Di Morrissey, Niki Savva, Graeme Simsion, Maxine Beneba-Clarke (Guardian Australia).

Another omnibus post, included because choosing a favourite book does, of course, mean you're picking up something which worked for you, and something which "went right".

Carnaby's cockatoos breeding program hailed a success for Perth university by ABC Western Australia (uncredited journalist)

A story about Carnaby's Black Cockatoos, which are critically endangered. They breed here in Perth (mostly around the outskirts of the city), and there's been some successes in getting them to breed in artificial "breeding hollows".

The Aboriginal teacher connecting people with country in the middle of the city by Jeremy Story Carter for RN Breakfast (ABC Victoria)

A story about a Gunditjmara man who teaches kids in Melbourne (particularly Indigenous kids, whose families may not have much connection to the traditions) about Indigenous culture. I'm including this one, even though it's a bit bitter-sweet toward the end, because I think it's important to recognise the process of recovery and re-integration of culture is both possible and necessary.

So there's my three for the day. Anyone else got anything they'd like to share?

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Current Mood: peaceful peaceful
What Went Right - 19 December 2016

Today's three stories about "what went right" from the mainstream media.

The 12 key science moments of 2016 - By Andrea Sella, Sophie Scott, Helen Czerski, Mark Miodownik, Adam Rutherford, Martin Rees, Kevin Fong, Sue Hartley, Georgina Mace, Vaughan Bell, Peter Piot; Guardian/Observer.

This is an omnibus article, and as such it's a mixed bundle. I'm including it here because seven out of the twelve items are about things which "went right" - things where people are doing the right things, where things are going in positive directions, and where science is broadening the scope and depth of human knowledge.

Hidden gems of 2016: the best books you may have missed - By Hannah Beckerman, Alex Clark, Rachel Cooke, Viv Groskop, Kate Kellaway, Robert McCrum, Stephanie Merritt, Alice O'Keeffe, Alex Preston, Anthony Quinn, Anita Sethi; Guardian/Observer.

Another omnibus article. Most of the books listed tend heavily toward the "literary fiction" genre. However, a recommendation tends to mean something "went right" for the reader, so I'm including it in the list.

Real-life Mr and Mrs Claus welcome the public into their home - By Amy Fairhead, WA Today.

A Perth couple spends about two months decorating their home for Christmas, and then invites the public to visit (entry is nominally free, although they ask for a donation to the K-9 Rescue Foundation, which is a non-profit organisation that rescues, cares for and re-homes dogs from the Peel region of Perth through to the Cockburn area).

So, that's today's helping. Have you found any stories about "what went right" in your media feed? Share them in the comments, and let's boost the signal on the positive stuff!

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

Current Mood: happy happy
What Went Right - 18 December 2016

A bit of background

This project was sparked by a combination of this rant and the article which inspired it: 99 Reasons Why 2016 Was A Good Year.

It owes something to an anti-depression tactic I found to be very useful in dealing with my own depression. Basically, what I'd do is every day, I'd write down three things which had gone right each day - and that's "gone right" in the sense of "didn't go wrong" (because when you're depressed, spotting "good" things is as hard as all get-out, but you can spot the things which are going wrong very easily indeed). Didn't matter how small the thing was - it could have been a cup of hot chocolate, or just recognising there was nasty weather out there, and I wasn't out in it - there had to be three things each day. I kept that up for about six months straight - and since then, I've never really been as miserable as I was at that point, because I'd built up the habit of looking for the things which were going right at the same time as looking at the things which were going wrong.

Maybe it's something we need to do as a wider culture, or group of cultures? Either way, I've decided to start here, by combing through the news sources I have handy, and trying to find three things each day which report on "what went right", rather than "what went wrong". Follow the links, give them clicks, and let's reward the news organisations for finding the positive stuff to go with the negative stuff. If you have three things of your own you'd like to drop into the comments, feel free! The more we can gather, the better.

So, on to the stories...

Indigenous cricket: Family-run academy aims for the big league in Northam, WA - by Brianna Shepherd (ABC, Western Australia).

A story about the Avon West Cricket Academy, which is teaching Indigenous Australian kids in the Avon region of WA how to play cricket, offering coaching and training, and seeing a real improvement in things like school and community participation in their players. They're hoping to get to the point where at least one (hopefully more) kid from the Academy will be playing cricket at the WACA (the Western Australian Cricket Association ground - the premier cricketing facility in WA).

Migrant mums learn to swim, just in time for the Kalgoorlie summer, by Nathan Morris (ABC, Western Australia).

A story about a local program for teaching migrant women how to swim, as adults. The program is unusual in that it apparently involves lessons which start off in a private swimming pool, before "graduating" to a public setting. It includes comments from participants in the program, the swimming teacher, and the person who started the program.

Wombat mange prompts Tasmanian residents to take the lead on tackling lethal disease, by Laura Beavis (ABC, Tasmania).

A story about a volunteer program in the town of Kelso, Tasmania, where local residents have got together to try to treat Sarcoptic mange in the region's wombat population, through use of home-made burrow flaps which deliver a dose of anti-mange medication onto the wombat's back each time it enters the burrow.

So, anyone got anything they'd like to add?

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

Current Mood: determined determined
Job Scammers: Adaptive

Another one of these landing in my inbox. This time it was for the address I actually use for job search, so it took me a while to figure out this was an actual scam. Here's the details.

To: [my jobsearch address]
Subject: For $MY_FIRST_NAME
From: Hr Dep [u3011801]

(Note the lack of an email address one can reply to there. First hint of something being up)

Email body below the fold )

Okay, so how did I guess this was a scam?

1) The compensation is far too high for the work they're asking. $7500 per month (assuming a 4 week month, each week consisting of 5 x 6 hour days) comes to $62.50 per hour. Which is high professional wages, and not the sort of money I'd be expecting. Then there's potentially commission on top of that... yeah. Right.

From (the front page of) their website, this is the position they're offering:

Description below the fold )

So, they're looking for someone who's graduated high school, with no other skills or experience, and they're willing to pay over $60 per hour for someone to phone clients and try to sell their "product" (such as it is) to them. Yeeeah. Plus, of course, the "benefits" of "paid holidays, vacation/personal days" to an Australian who has been part of the workforce previously sounds a bit like advertising that a car "also comes with tyres on all the wheels!". (Paid public holidays and vacation are part of the standard Australian working environment. If an employer isn't offering you these for full time work, you need to be talking to the Fair Work people).

2) It's very difficult to tell, from their website, what this company actually does (or indeed, if they do anything other than attempt to separate fools from their money).

There's a lot of talk about start-ups, and the start-up sector, and leveraging the power of start-ups, but very little actual discussion of what it is they're attempting to do. Are they selling your business to start-up companies as a client? (They might be). Are they selling your business to start-up companies as a service provider? (It's possible). The way things are phrased means this website appears to be attempting to be all things to all people, and as a result it's even vaguer than the average political platform. Their "method", for example, appears to involve basically throwing buzzwords at the topic until either a solution is obtained, or more likely until someone gives them money to go away. The copy implies they have links with everyone and everything, and are able to act as facilitators.

Their "in the press" section appears to link to three separate articles, none of which appear to have any immediate relevance to this particular business. Then again, none of the "links" actually work, which means you can't check.

They don't appear to have an Australian presence - there's an office listed in the UK:


(A quick perusal of Google maps implies yes, there is actually an office at this address, but it's the office of an accounting firm with a completely different name).

There are phone numbers given for the UK (UK: +44 203 868 1873), USA (US: +1 (646) 880 3616) and either Canada or California (CA: +1 (647) 247 0825), but nothing for Australia.

On top of this, they don't appear to have much of a history on google, either. Googling the company name just gets the standard business filings (as in, the registration information for the company), but nothing else. For a company which is supposed to be making a name for themselves (and a quick bit of googling points out their domain has been active for at least 160 days - so at least five months) this isn't particularly good news.

3) The final scam marker: I never applied for the job they're offering me in the first place. The email is written in such a way as to imply they received my details in response to a job application, but I keep a record of the jobs I apply for. I haven't applied for a position as an Investment Assistant/Advisor at any time in the last three months (or indeed, at any stage this year).

If you're receiving job offers from this mob, be aware they're probably scammers - which means if you do the work, they're probably not going to pay you. They certainly read as being dodgy as a three-dollar bill.

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Current Mood: okay okay
How To Get Through This: Tips From A Lifelong Depressive

A lot of people are probably feeling numb, flattened and despairing today in the aftermath of the US election. In other words, you're feeling much the same way I often feel for no reason whatsoever. So in the interest of being able to get through the whole mess, and pull yourselves out the other side, and deal with the rest of the world rather than hiding in a bunker panicking for the next few months, I offer the following tips.

1) Acknowledge what you're feeling is genuine. Don't tell yourself you're "over-reacting" or "being over-dramatic" or "being silly". Especially, don't try to tell yourself that you're "fine" (unless you actually mean, "freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional" when you say that). What you're feeling is what you're genuinely feeling, and it's something which deserves to be acknowledged. Don't try to make yourself feel happier or better. Just accept you're feeling bad, and you're allowed to feel bad.

2) Start treating your emotional self the way you'd treat a six-year-old who was feeling the same way. If you need cuddles or hugs, try and get those from friends and family members. If you need to huddle in a blanket with a stuffed animal, do that. If you want to eat chocolate, eat chocolate. Soothe your inner child, in tangible, physical ways. Physical comfort builds mental comfort. Our minds are linked to our bodies. If our minds are in turmoil, comforting the body can help ease this. So eat comfort food (the best comfort food is hot, milky and sweet, because that taps back into our first memories of being comforted and soothed as babies), wear comfortable clothes and favourite colours, and keep at a comfortable temperature for the environment (cool if it's warm out, warm if it's cold out).

3) Acknowledge that emotions require energy. If you're feeling a lot of things, you're going to be more tired, and you're going to need more sleep. So, see whether you can re-arrange your sleep schedule such that you're going to bed earlier, and sleeping a bit longer. Try to avoid pushing yourself intellectually in your time off - now would be a good time for things like colouring in, or playing solitaire or listening to music, or other recreations which don't require you to be doing much thinking. Re-read favourite books (the ones which are sort of like chewing gum for the mind - the ones where you can just sit back and let the story flow over you and not have to think for a bit).

4) If you're feeling constantly anxious, panicking over things, start asking yourself these questions:

  • What am I actually worried about? Write down a list, if you feel the need - often one of the underlying "anxiety" processes is a worry that you've forgotten something important that you were worrying about. Writing a list of worries helps defuse that one. Writing a list also helps pin down what you're worried about
  • Are these things I'm worried about things which are certain to happen (for example, "the sun is certain to rise tomorrow"), things which are probably going to happen ("the sun will rise in the east"), or is something which is technically possible, but not necessarily feasible ("the sun will rise in the north")? Put more energy into dealing with the things which are certain, or probable. Things which are only possible aren't worth worrying about until they ascend the ladder of probability.
  • What can I do about this problem right now, right this minute? It is likely the answer will be "nothing". If you are unable to do something about the problem, then worrying about it isn't going to help anyone. Least of all yourself. Start intervening actively in your worry loops, and diverting your thoughts elsewhere.

Intervening in worry loops is a skill - which means it can be learned, and it will improve over time. What it involves is three things: recognising you're stuck in a loop, stopping the loop, and changing the mental subject. Recognising you're stuck in a loop starts by recognising you're anxious in the first place - and again, the questions above can help there: start at "what am I worried about?". Does the same subject come up repeatedly? In that case, you're stuck in a loop. Stopping the loop involves catching yourself in the worry, and quite literally choosing not to pursue it - and the easiest way to do this is by changing the mental subject. I've found things like multiplication tables useful for me when I'm trying to do this - start at 1x1 and work up to 20x20, and if I make a mistake, I have to go back to 1x1 again and start over. Or play "FizzBuzz" with yourself (count from 1 to as high as you go, replacing every number divisible by 5 with "fizz" and every number divisible by 7 with "buzz" - again, make a mistake and you have to start over).

Oh, and while you're anxious, accept you're not going to be 100% on the intellectual side. You have the anxiety sitting there occupying mental cycles, and this is going to affect your mental processing speed in the same way having an anti-virus program performing a scan affects the performance of a computer. Things are going to be slowed down, and take a bit longer to run. Be kind to yourself while this is happening - brains are much harder to reboot than computers.

5) If you find you're really sunk into a negative frame of mind, unable to see any positives in life, I offer the following tip which has worked for me. Get a notebook. Into that notebook, each day, write three things which went right. Note the phrasing there: it's "things which went right" as opposed to "things which went wrong". At present, you're probably going to have problems with things like "positive" or "good" or "happy" - it's impossible to spot those things when the emotions are right off the radar. But when you're feeling like this, trust me, you can spot everything which is going wrong in your life - and that makes it easier, in turn, to spot the things which aren't. Doesn't have to be a big thing - a hot drink on a cold day, or even the thought of not having to be outside in rotten weather is enough. But you have to find three things each day which went right, and write them down in the notebook.

Please note: this isn't going to perform an instant transformation on your mood. It isn't supposed to perform an instant transformation on your mood. What it is intended to do is perform a gradual transformation and build the habit of not looking on the dark side all the time.

In conclusion, I will leave you with this truth: believe me, you CAN get through this bad spell of mental weather. What you're experiencing now, in the aftermath of a terrible shock in world events, is what a lot of mentally ill people live with on a constant basis. Yes, the real world events are terrible. But you cannot let these real world events rule you to the extent that you give up living, give up hoping, give up working toward change. What I've offered here is a collection of coping tips which worked for me to allow me to do this. I'm hoping they'll work for other people as well.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

Current Mood: compassionate compassionate
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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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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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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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
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