Is it Time for a Dry January?

Among a myriad of New Year’s traditions, resolutions and etc., Dry January became a popular challenge for many. The concept is simple – give up alcohol entirely from your diet for the duration of January. For some, it’s a way to take a break from excessive drinking during holidays, for others it’s a way to “detox” and kick start health-related New Year’s resolutions.

Officially, Dry January is known as a campaign run by Alcohol Concern, a charity which is tackling problems with overconsumption of alcohol and the many issues it can potentially cause. Since 2015 they have been working with Public Health England, which also encourages people to participate, as according to their words, it can continue to help people with their drinking habits for weeks, even months after the challenge.

And it works too! Not only do 72% of participants improve their drinking habits, even 6 months later, but many sources also confirm other benefits of participating. Big drinker or not, giving up alcohol for a month would show a few health improvements. And with that recurring resolution to get healthy in the new year, why not give this challenge a go?

Here’s a list of reasons why you might like to try the challenge:

1. Rethinking your habits

Dry January is an opportunity to rethink how one consumes alcohol and in what situations. The unfortunate reality is that many of us can feel pressured in drinking environments, ending up consuming far more than we originally planned. But, if we dedicate the whole month to not having a drop of alcohol, we can find a way to decline social pressure or just have a good reflection on our own habits. Some people may find that they need alcohol far less to enjoy themselves. or not need it at all.

2. Saving money

Whether you go for your drinks to a fancy bar, a local pub or just get your fill at the corner shop, alcohol always costs a pretty penny. By not consuming it, an average participant can save some money, which can either be spent on something else of course or be donated to the charity itself!

3. Weight loss

We always hear that alcohol is empty calories, and it’s true! Depending on how much you drink usually, you can even lose a few pounds in a couple of weeks. Alcohol consumption also leads to the likelihood of increased junk food consumption, so if you cut back on alcohol, you might not feel the need to get a greasy takeaway afterwards.

But most importantly, Dry January heavily focuses on community and supporting each other, whether or not we have difficult relationships with alcohol. For some, it’s just a detox month, for others it’s a way to take back control, but we are more likely to succeed at it if we doing it together and supporting others. So next time you hear a friend or a family member trying the challenge, maybe offer to join them and see how it changes your life for yourself.

You can find out more about Dry January and even download resources here.

How to Help Our Wildlife This Winter

December is usually the month when a lot of our thoughts are focused on Christmas and the activities around the festival, but did you know that December the 4th is International Cheetah Day? Not only that, but the 21st of December is National Robin Day in the UK, the bird that almost epitomises Christmas. But as winter sets in, temperatures drop and food becomes scarce, it becomes very bleak for the wildlife in our gardens and countryside.  We can, however, do things to help. Most of them are very easy and some are absolutely free, but they can make all the difference for our animal friends!

1. Feed the Birds and the Wildlife

In the cold season, Animals will have difficulty finding their natural foods such as berries, insects and seeds, worms and all the other things they would normally eat. Whilst we shouldn’t put out too much food too often, as animals can come to depend on it, we can help them to get through the tougher times.

  • Birds – Provide a range of seeds, fresh unsalted peanuts and table scraps. Suet balls, mealworms, berries or chopped up fruits (apples, pears, plums) are also good.
  • Hedgehogs – Tinned dog/cat food (but not fish-based), minced meat or chopped boiled egg or scrambled egg. Don’t put milk out, even though they will drink it, as it can cause them problems.
  • Squirrels – love hazelnuts or walnuts. They also appreciate sunflower seeds and chopped carrot or spinach.
  • Badgers – Fruit (apples, grapes, pears), peanuts, lightly cooked meats, cheese, peanuts and fruit.
  • Small mammals – mixed seeds
  • Foxes: Cheese, boiled potatoes, chicken, bread and fat scraps left out at dusk.

Another thing to note is that if you live near a busy road, don’t leave out food if it encourages wildlife to cross it.

2. Leave out fresh water

Animals need to drink and bathe as they normally would in the hotter months, but ice can lock away moisture. A simple, free way to help animals this winter is to provide a source of water every day. Place a shallow dish or bowl of fresh water in your garden. Remember to check it throughout the day, pouring hot (not boiling) into it to melt any ice. You can also place a floating object into the water. This will provide an open hole for animals to drink from.

This will benefit all wildlife including birds. To do a little more you could invest in a bird bath to keep birds hydrated and clean.

3. Provide some shelter.

Investing in something like a Bird boxes or a hedgehog home or providing an undisturbed area in your garden can provide cosy shelters and habitats where wildlife can hibernate. A compost heap will make a perfect home for frogs, toads and other animals. Just gathering fallen leaves and placing these underneath hedges and shrubs can provide a safe home for hedgehogs and even insects!

You can even build your own hedgehog home if you are feeling creative.

When working in your garden over winter, check areas such as compost heaps and leaf before handling them. If you have areas where animals have taken refuge, remember not to disturb them until their hibernation is over and they have left.

4. Make a hole in your pond if it’s frozen

Making a hole in the ice on a pond allows wildlife access to the water in your pond can make all the difference. It also prevents toxic gases building up in the water, which can kill fish or frogs. The best and safest way to create a hole is to carefully place a saucepan filled with hot (not boiling) water on your pond until a hole has been melted. Don’t hit the ice to break it or pour boiling water directly onto the ice.

5. Check for Life Before Lighting a Fire

If you are planning a fire in your garden, remember logs, dead leaves, twigs etc, are havens for small creatures. If possible, rebuild your fire in a different place, carefully checking nothing is hiding or trying to sleep. Also carefully check compost heaps for life before turning them over with a sharp pitchfork or spade!

6. Consider Planting Fruit-Bearing Trees and Shrubs

This option is harder and takes a bit more effort and dedication, but is very worthwhile. Fruit bearing plants and are not only a valuable source of natural food for wildlife but also provide year-round homes and shelter.

7. Donate Food and Supplies to a Wildlife Sanctuary or Charity

Find out where your local wildlife sanctuary is and donate; food, supplies or even volunteer help. Or you can go to a wildlife charities website and donate directly.

8. Take Time to Observe What You’ve Achieved

It doesn’t help them directly, but observing the wildlife in your garden, as you sit indoors, will inspire you to carry on your efforts all winter long.

There are lots of things you can do this year, to make sure our animal friends have a happy Christmas.

How to Beat Procrastination

We’ve all been there. An important project or piece of work is imminently due. You have very little time left to complete it, but you know it has to be done, so you are working in a frenzy to finish it, but you still have so much left to do. The thing is, you were given this task weeks, even months ago. You have had plenty of time. Why didn’t you do it earlier? Is it because, like almost everyone else, you procrastinated?

Procrastination is the habit of delaying an important task, usually by focusing on less urgent and easier activities instead. Procrastination isn’t laziness, which is the unwillingness to act. It is actually an active process – you choose to do something else instead of the task that you should be doing. And none of us are immune; according to research, 95 percent of us procrastinate to some degree.

Even minor episodes of procrastination can make us feel guilty, but over a long period, it can demotivate us and lead to a loss of productivity that could have serious consequences. So, it’s important we do something to prevent it. The first step to overcoming procrastination is to recognize that we are doing it.

Are You Procrastinating?

Procrastination, as we said, is a habit and like all habits, we can overcome it. It may be that sometimes that we are putting off an important task for a good reason, but if we are constantly filling our days with low priority tasks, or starting high importance projects and then breaking off to do something else, or completing unimportant tasks that other people have asked us to do, then we are probably procrastinating.

Why are You Procrastinating?

There are a number of things that could lead to procrastination. Do you find a particular task boring or unpleasant? If that is the case, get it out of the way quickly, so that you can focus on more enjoyable tasks.

Poor organization can cause procrastination. You could use To-Do Lists to organize your tasks by priority and deadline.

It’s possible that you just feel overwhelmed by a task. If you have doubts about your own ability to compete a task, it is much more likely that you will put it off and complete the tasks that you know that you’re capable of doing.

How to Overcome Procrastination

“Do first what you don’t want to do most.” ― Clifford Cohen

Any habit is something that you won’t get rid of immediately. Procrastination will only stop being a habit when stop doing it. Here are some strategies to help:

Forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past: it can make you feel more positive about yourself and reduce the likelihood of procrastination in the future.

  • Commit to the task. Focus on doing, not avoiding and promise yourself a reward if you complete a difficult task on time
  • Minimize distractions by turn off your email and social media. If you are working from home, turn off that TV.
  • Complete the tasks you hate as soon in the working day as possible.  That means you have the rest of the day to concentrate on work that you find more enjoyable.
  • Identify and focus on the long-term benefits of completing a particular task, rather than the short-term gain. Think also about what will happen if you don’t complete the work? How might it affect your personal, team or organizational goals?
  • Break down tasks into more manageable chunks. Organize projects into smaller tasks or create an Action Plan to organize your project, starting with quick and small tasks first. Getting “small wins” can provide a sense of achievement and give you some momentum.
  • You can set up Reminders on a daily or even hourly basis, to remind you that you should be working on that important project.
  • Spend 15 minutes a day or just clean and clear things as you go (email, physical cleaning, tasks, etc.). Otherwise you may leave these things and they can become overwhelming, leading to procrastination.
  • Just Do It. It is easier said than done, certainly, but the company who slogan it is has a guide: The Nike Guide to Overcoming Procrastination.
  • Automate if you can. If there are repetitive, simple everyday tasks that can be automated, then do this time and allow yourself to concentrate on more important, interesting things. Tools like Zapier and IFTTT are free for personal use, although they may have some limitations.
  • Realize that you will not achieve perfection. Nothing is perfect, but if you work hard and consistently, you may be surprised at how good what you produce ends up being.
  • Counterintuitively, it might help to work less. Stop trying to do too many things at once. Multitasking is a myth. You can’t do six things at once. As we’ve previously said, focus on the task that’s most important and do that.

“Doing things at the last minute reminds us of the importance of doing things at the first minute.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo

Remember, don’t be too hard on yourself. You will not beat procrastination overnight and if you are finding it difficult, then you are not alone. Give yourself a break now and again. And don’t believe that that you can never beat procrastination. You really can.

Fun Festive Facts

Christmas is coming. A season that has many traditions and stories associated with it. But where do all these traditions come from and are some of the things we know about Christmas actually true? At Infero we have sent our elves out to make a list of fun Festive Facts that you can use to amaze your friends and family. Be sure to check it twice.

1: Faster than the speed of Santa. US scientists calculated that Santa visits 822 homes a second to deliver all the world’s presents on Christmas Eve, travelling at 650 miles a second.

2: Christ’s Mass. The word Christmas comes from the Old English “Cristes maesse” meaning “Christ’s Mass”.

3: The tradition of putting tangerines in stockings comes from 12th-century French nuns who left socks full of fruit, nuts and tangerines at the houses of the poor.

4: Boxing Day gets its name from all the money collected in church alms-boxes for the poor.

5: Ebenezer Scrooge’s famous line “Bah Humbug” almost never existed. Charles Dickens’ initial choice was “Bah Christmas”.

6: Three Wise Men? Despite the tale of three wise men paying homage to baby Jesus, the Bible never gives a number. Matthew’s Gospel refers to merely “wise men”.

7: Noel. The word Noel derives from the French expression “les bonnes nouvelles” or “the good news”.

8: A Merry Greek Christmas. The Greeks celebrate Christmas on January 7, according to the old Julian calendar, while Xmas presents are opened on New Year’s Day.

9: Royalties from Christmas songs? Mariah Carey makes £375,000 per year from All I Want For Christmas, the Pogues make about £400,000 from Fairytale of New York. Top of the Christmas tree are Slade, who are reckoned to earn £500,000 per year from Merry Christmas Everybody.

10: The bestselling Xmas single ever is Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, shifting over 50million copies worldwide since 1942. In Britain, the best-selling festive single is Band Aid’s 1984 track, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, which sold 3.5million copies. Wham! is next in the same year with Last Christmas, selling 1.4million.

11: According to tradition, you should eat one mince pie on each of the 12 days of Christmas to bring good luck.

12: It’s technically illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day in England. In the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas pudding, mince pies and anything to do with gluttony. The law has never been rescinded.

13: Holly and Ivy have been used to decorate homes since the 9th century because they symbolise everlasting life. The holly represents Christ’s crown of thorns and the berries his blood.

14: Santa Claus has different names around the world – Kriss Kringle in Germany, Le Befana in Italy, Pere Noel in France and Deushka Moroz (Grandfather Frost) in Russia.

15: Wassailing. Carols began as an old English custom called wassailing, toasting neighbours to a long life.

16: Jingle Bells. James Pierpont’s 1857 song Jingle Bells was first called One Horse Open Sleigh and was written for Thanksgiving. Jingle Bells was the first song broadcast from space when Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra sang it on December 16, 1965.

17: Since 1947 Oslo has sent an Xmas tree to London to thank us for our help in the Second World War.

18: Xmas is a sacrilegious abbreviation. It isn’t actually and it’s not taking the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas. The ‘X’ is simply a substitute for the Greek word Chi which represents Christ. There is no intention of causing offence.

19: Prince Albert invented the Christmas tree. Tradition suggests that the husband of Queen Victoria brought the Christmas tree to England from his native Germany for the first time in 1848. There is evidence, however, that people in Britain had already been observing this tradition for around 100 years previous to this.

20: It’s Brussels sprouts not Brussel Sprouts. Despite the fact that three quarters (77%) of the UK refer to our favourite Christmas Veg as “Brussel sprouts”, the correct plural term is in fact “Brussels sprouts” (as they are named after the Belgian capital city). Just 18% of the public use the correct name, with the final 5% saying they “don’t know”.

21: Christmas Pudding. Christmas pudding was originally a soup made with raisins and wine.

22: In Somerset and parts of Dorset, it’s traditional for the last person to finish eating their sprouts to have to do the Christmas Day washing up dressed as a giant turkey. This tradition is believed to have started in the 1960s as a way to encourage children to eat their vegetables.

23: In a recent Yahoo poll, users voted the most popular Christmas film of all time as Home Alone, with The Muppet Christmas Carol second, and It’s a Wonderful Life third. It’s A Wonderful Life was mentioned in an FBI file in 1947, when an analyst expressed concern that the film was an obvious attempt to discredit bankers, a “common trick used by communists.”

24: Many parts of the Christmas tree can actually be eaten, with the needles being a good source of Vitamin C. Christmas trees usually grow for about 15 years before they’re sold and average, three Christmas trees are planted to replace each one harvested.

25: For a christmas to be officially classified as “white” a single snow flake needs to be observed falling in the 24 hours of 25th December on the rooftop of the Met Office HQ in London.

Celebrate Universal Human Rights Month

December is Universal Human Rights Month, when we are encouraged to come together and stand up for equality, justice, and the dignity of all humans. Human Rights Month marks the initial codification in 1948, by the United Nations General Assembly, of the basic human rights of every individual on the planet.

It is often said that World War II was fought so that everyone should have four basic four freedoms:

  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom from Fear
  • Freedom from Want

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

-Nelson Mandela

On the 10th of December the United nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It is an international document that enshrines the rights and freedoms of all human beings. Considered a foundational text in the history of human and civil rights, the Declaration consists of 30 articles detailing an individual’s “basic rights and fundamental freedoms”. These rights include freedom from discrimination, the right to equality, and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

“You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can only be free if I am free.” – Clarence Darrow, American lawyer

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that these rights are applicable regardless of gender, age, race, political affiliation, or sexual preference. It has been translated into more than 500 languages — more than any other document in the world.

Celebrate Human Rights Month by understanding firstly what this codified set of freedoms does for you. There is an illustrated version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights available.  National Human Rights Month is about acknowledging that people are people, plain and simple. You can get involved and volunteer for an organization such as Amnesty International, a charity organization that works tirelessly to support and spread human rights.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King

You can also read a book about the Declaration of Human rights, or about human rights in general. And spread the word on social media using #NationalHumanRights and #HumanRights. Take time to remember the people that don’t enjoy the same freedoms and liberties that we, perhaps, take for granted.

Hashtag                #HumanRightsMonth

How to Get Microsoft Office for Free

Microsoft Office is the world’s best known Office Software Suite and it boasts some pretty powerful features, but it also comes with quite a price tag. Now known as Microsoft 365, rather than Office 365, it costs £59.99 per year for its cheapest version. However, did you know that it’s possible to get Office for absolutely free legitimately. And that there is more than one way of doing it.

1. Use Office.com

If you don’t need the advanced features of the Office apps, Microsoft offers Office free to anyone who accesses it directly from Office.com. Although they are not the full versions, you are able to complete most ordinary tasks. All you need to do log in or sign in with a Microsoft account.

“..if all you need are the basics, this is an option worth trying.”

PCMag.com

Bear in mind that you can only use this free version of Office with an internet connection. So, if you start a Word doc at Office.com, and your internet fails, you won’t be able to access it.

2. Use it on a Phone or Tablet

Microsoft apps are also available free on your Apple or Android devices. These can be downloaded from the usual app store and used completely for free. Editing is a little limited when using these applications and you cannot edit at all if your screen size is larger than 10.1 inches. However, If you use a smaller tablet that can connect to a keyboard, then these can offer the full office experience. There is even a combined ‘Microsoft Office’ app, that has Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The Excel app even has the ability to take information from a scan or picture. It is worth installing for that feature alone.

3 Sign Up for A One Month Trial

If you need the fully featured version of Office, but only need it for a short period of time, it’s possible to sign up for a one-month free trial. It’s available at Microsoft’s Try Office for free website, where you can sign up.

The trial requires that you provide credit card details, but you can cancel immediately after signing up to avoid the subscription being automatically renewed and getting charged. Even if you do this you can continue using Office for the rest of your free month.

Once you have your trial running, you can download full versions of the Microsoft Office applications giving full access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, and 1TB of storage in OneDrive. Its possible to share it with up to five other people. They just need to have (or sign up for) a Microsoft Account. There is a free 30-day evaluations of Office 365 ProPlus. Although it is intended for businesses, it is possible to sign up for both offers giving potentially two months of free Microsoft Office access.

Schools and college often have Office 365 plans, and these allow students and teachers to download the software for free. It is easy to check by going to the Office 365 Education website, and entering your school email address. If your school or college has signed up, you will have the opportunity of a free download.

So, if you fancy trying out Office, but don’t want to spend to much, there are plenty of options.

Did Excel Cause the Government to Lose Covid Testing Data?

At the end of last month, there were a lot of headlines and articles about the fact that nearly 16,000 Covid-19 cases had gone unreported. To be precise, between the 25th September and the 2nd October, 15,841 cases had been left out of the government’s daily figures for England. Whilst all of the cases had been immediately informed that their test result was positive, there were significant delays in speaking to them to complete any contact tracing that might be required.

Speaking in the House of Commons on 5 October the Health secretary Matt Hancock said the issue had been caused by Public Health England (PHE) using a “legacy system” and he described the problem as a “glitch”. It then emerged that the issue was also something to do with the use of Microsoft Excel. So, what exactly was the problem?

The error was caused because of the process used by the PHE to consolidate data. Commercial firms paid to analyse Covid tests, submitted results as text-based lists called CSV (Comma Separated Value) files. These caused no problems. It was the file format PHE’s developers were using that led to cases being missed.

An old Excel file format known as XLS, which dates back to 1987 was being used. Microsoft replaced it with an updated version, XLSX, in 2007. An XLS file can only hold around 65,000 rows of data (65,536 precisely). The current version of Excel is capable of holding over a million rows of data.

Although there were, at that point, nowhere near 65,000 positive cases a day being identified, each test result created several rows of data, so any one XLS worksheet could only hold 1,400 cases. Once the worksheet had been filled, further cases were simply left off. Although many articles talk about exceeding Maximum file size, this is misleading, as maximum file size refers to something else entirely.

The big question is why an older Excel file format was used in the first place. If the most up to date version of Excel had been used, it would have handled 16 times the number of cases, which would have, at the very least, stopped this problem from occurring until the number of tests being processed was much higher.

The older format could have been used because XLS file format allows macros, whereas the newer XLSM does not, but an Excel file is very easily saved in the XLSM format, which does allow macros.

It was the fact that the PHE had, as Matt Hancock said used a “legacy system” that may be the real reason that the older format was chosen. On YouTube, Stand-up Maths posted on this subject and quoted an anonymous source in the NHS:

“Even up until very recently…this year (2020), they were using an old database within the NHS which has been around for over a decade and if they wanted to export a selection of those data points, because of a compatibility issue they could only export it as a XLS format”.

It seems that this could be the likely explanation. The NHS has been involved in a number of events in recent years, when using outdated software has caused it problems.

In the end, however, some have argued that it wasn’t the use of an outdated version of Excel that was the problem, it was the use of Excel at all, saying that Excel isn’t designed to handle such large amounts of data. That just isn’t true though. The row limit in the newest version of Excel is over 1 million, as noted earlier, but even this can be exceeded by using tools that come built into the program.

Rather than blame the tool used, the Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts, writing to the Health Secretary said:” This is not an IT glitch… This is a systematic failure that… can only be improved by long term investment in infrastructure and training.”.

It is understandable that the system to collate the data on Covid testing was put together quickly, but given the billions of pounds that have been spent on the Test and Trace system, this mistake should not have happened. And we certainly shouldn’t be blaming Excel.

World Vegan Month

November is World Vegan Month. Most people think of a vegan as someone who does not eat animals. That is certainly the case, but Veganism extends beyond this. It is a way of life that tries to avoid all forms of cruelty to animals for food, products, or any other purpose. Eating only a plant-based diet is at the heart of veganism, but it is only the beginning of it. Vegans not only do not eat meat; they also avoid fish, dairy, eggs, and honey. They will also not wear or use products like leather or fur.

“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – The Vegan Society

There are a number of good, proven reasons to become vegan:

  • For your own health. Studies have shown that consuming animal fats and proteins is linked to heart disease, colon and lung cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other conditions.
  • There is even some evidence that becoming a vegan treats/reverses health conditions you may already have. It is not a magic cure all, but a good balanced vegan diet would, in most cases, help with weight loss, which would, in turn, help with conditions like diabetes and heart problems.
  • Weight loss, in itself, is a good goal to help to stay healthy, even if you already are. Many animal products are calorie-dense. Sticking to a plant-based diet helps you lose weight and, more importantly, stay slim. 
  • Avoid food poisoning. Animal products can contain bacteria and other toxins. Not only that, but intensively farmed meat may also be laced with such things as antibiotics and hormones. The spectre of chlorine washed chicken being on UK supermarket shelves may make more people think of the Vegan option.
  • The wide variety of new meals. Rather than restricting you in what you eat, Veganism can lead you to try amazing new meals! There are more than 20,000 kinds of edible plants in the world. With spices, herbs and the right accompaniments, the possibilities are almost endless.
  • There has never been a better and easier time to become vegan. Supermarkets have entire sections of vegan food. Nearly every restaurant offers at least one vegan option and most more. Veganism is also becoming more and more popular.

In the past being a Vegan was not as easy as it currently is, with food-stores not offering vegan alternatives and restaurants not having not vegan options. Now there are meat substitutes and even honey and butter substitutes, so that being a vegan has never been easier and you don’t have to give up on things that you once would have missed.

World Vegan Month was established in 1994 to celebrate fifty years since the creation of The Vegan Society in the UK. There are celebrations and festivals to mark it, although, obviously this year celebrations are likely to be different. However, there are still some events occurring and you can find out more here.

You can also try out some Vegan recipes:

5 Minute Vegan Pancakes

Vegan Chocolate Cake

Creamy Vegan Pasta

Pumpkin curry with chickpeas

Veganism goes beyond diet and what you eat, however. Some would argue that it also entails practicing a cruelty free life style. Not using animal products for other purposes and being aware that many things we use every day can contain animal products or may have been tested on animals, and this can be everything from lipstick to deodorant. Veganism can also be about social responsibility and helping to preserve and improve the environment.

Websites:

Go Vegan

The Vegan Society

Hashtag  #VeganMonth

10 Top Tips for National Novel Writing Month

It is said that everyone has a novel in them, but if you have always wanted to write one, but never had the time, or if you’ve started novels, but never finished them, then perhaps you should sign up to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It takes place in November and is an annual event where participants commit to writing a 50,000-word novel between November 1-30. It has to be a novel, not a play, or poem (or even the sentence “I can’t do this”, typed over and over again).

Starting at midnight (local time) on November 1st, writers can draft a new novel or re-write an old one, although you cannot continue a work-in-progress. Planning and outlining beforehand are, however, allowed.

“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.” – Neil Gaiman

There are no prizes. You ‘win’ by completing the challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. This means you’ll need to write an average of 1,667 words per day. You can sign up at NaNoWriMo website  and upload your completed novel there to verify your word count.

It seems like a daunting task, but here are 10 tips to make the whole challenge a little less intimidating.

1.LOVE the book you’re writing. Write the book or story that you really want to write, rather than one that you think would be commercial, or that you should write.

2. Work backwards. Plan only the ending of your story first and start writing. Once you have reached the end, you can go back and rework the novel, putting in elements that relate to the ending, ensuring that you reach it seamlessly.

3. Try writing for just a number of short periods a day. Surprisingly, two 15-minute bursts of writing every day may be enough. Even if you are not producing enough words initially, you will start to write more and more, and hopefully catch up.

4. Really know your characters. Know them better than your partner, your child, or your best friend. Give them a challenge, understand their character’s motivations and think how they will react to given situations. Ask yourself what would cause them the most conflict. See where your characters take you; you may have an outline, but your characters may take you off on an unexpected tangent. Let them.

5. Don’t expect your writing or novel to be perfect.  You won’t have every plot detail, or character motivation before you even begin. You can even think of the novel’s first draft as a way of gathering material and collecting as many ideas together as possible that can be then used later as part of your masterpiece.

6. ‘Build’ the world of your novel. Plan its backstory, geography, infrastructure and culture to ensure a tight internal continuity.

7. Try to distil the premise of your story into one sentence, defining the protagonist and his or her journey. Or you can just plot the most important scenes, even if you don’t know what happens between them, it still means you will have a roadmap to work with.

8. Don’t try to Edit as you write. Get everything down first, letting the words and ideas flow. Remember, this is not the finished novel; it is just the first draft.

9. Set aside a certain amount of time every day, whether it’s half an hour, or two hours, to write. Write at the same time every day, if having the routine makes it more likely that you will do the writing. 

10. If you suffer the dreaded writer’s block then stop writing the part you are writing and write something else. A different chapter, something that was not going to happen for another four chapters. Anything. Just make a note of what you were trying to do at that point you got stuck and you can go back and finish it later.

Bonus Tip – Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t write. There will be delays, things will interrupt you; you will just be simply too tired. Accept these times, because they will just happen. Carry on again when you can.

NaNoWriMo can be a lot of fun and it can help you with your writing ambitions. It isn’t easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding and even if you don’t quite get to the magic 50, 000 words, you are still left with much more experience and the start (or even the start and middle) of a novel that you can continue on with after the challenge is over.

Computer Learning/Emotional Intelligence Month

October is Computer Learning Month. It is also Emotional Intelligence month. Although these seem quite diverse subjects, they are both about improving our own skills. They are also both about connecting with other people, either through understanding emotions or by being able to use all the digital methods of communication.

Computer Learning Month

Computers are now in every part of our lives. From the smartphones that we spend so much time using, to the laptops and desktops in all businesses. However, although for some, computers have always been part of their lives, in relative terms, it is not really that long they were not as ubiquitous as they now are. Although it is easy to assume that everyone is able to use computers, that isn’t the case. Computer Learning Month is for those who have difficulty working with computers, or just need a refresher.

People may not be familiar with computers because of a lack of opportunity, or because they are from a generation before computers were widely used. While many people will live their lives quite happily without using computers, it is increasingly disadvantageous not to have basic computer skills.

Computer Learning Month was established to encourage those who aren’t familiar with computers. It highlights the opportunities available to learn more about computers, such as classes at local libraries starting with courses on things such as basic internet usage.

Computer Learning is essential because computers are involved in almost everything, such as paying bills, scheduling appointments, and finding information on almost everything, so it’s important that people are not left behind. There is already, an increasing digital divide, between those who do and don’t have access to a computer.

You can celebrate Computer Learning Month, by enrolling in classes to build on your skills. Of course, at Infero, we offer courses at all levels. However, even if you already have good computer skills, there is always something new you can learn to help enhance your abilities.

Better knowledge of computing enables people to stay in touch with friends, families and friends, especially in the current situation. We have a previous post that gives some tips on increasing your Computer Learning here.

#ComputerLearningMonth

Emotional Intelligence Month

October is also Emotional Intelligence month and its annual campaign to educate people about the subject began in 2006. The Emotional Intelligence Institute organizes Emotional Intelligence Month and offers free educational materials for free on the non-profit’s website.

Managing and developing our emotions and understanding those of others is critical for all of us. As well as the information available we have 10 ways to improve your Emotional Intelligence here.

#EmotionalIntelligenceAwarenessMonth