Friday, October 15, 2021

Snake Oil: Seatbelts and COVID

In 1970 Victoria became the first state in the western world to introduce laws making the use of seatbelt in cars compulsory. within year and a half the other Australian states followed suit and by 1977, 90% of motorist were wearing seatbelts. Why? Because they recognized that although wearing a seatbelt could be something of an inconvenience, it also prevents death and more serious injury in the event of a car accident.  

"The Australian experience supports the view that legislation for compulsory wearing of seatbelts is the single most effective method available for the protection of vehicle occupants in road crashes."(1)

Seatbelts were first offered in vehicles by Nash in 1949, followed by Ford in 1955, but American buyers didn't initially want cars with seatbelts because they believed that needing to install a seatbelt meant the car itself wasn't safe. Apparently safety did not sell. It does now, but not back then.

The first sash seatbelts weren't much chop, and actually caused injuries in some cases but the technology continued to improve with Volvo introducing the three point belt, then later the advent of the pretensioner was brought to us by Daimler-Benz.

We, both motorists and passengers, exercise faith when we use motor vehicles. Time has proven we can trust manufacturers to make safe vehicles, but they can't do anything about dangerous or incompetent drivers. We have licensing, registration, and training to help with that of course, but when you're driving you can really only hope that other drivers are licensed and they know what they're doing.

The mandatory use of seatbelts is just one of numerous examples of governments acting to protect their citizens. There was no conspiracy to restrict our freedom or inconvenience us. The purpose was keeping us safe. Governments still run advertising campaigns to remind people to belt up when they get in car even though most of us do it automatically. Despite the initial protests and concerns, we got used to seatbelts. And they work.

Call it a long bow if you like, but I can't see any difference between seatbelts and COVID vaccinations and precautions. Governments around the world want people to get vaccinated to keep us safe. Seatbelts, vehicle testing and registration, driver training and licensing, and speed limits are all designed to keep us safe. Most people accept this, not as evidence of totalitarianism, but of natural and acceptable paternalism. Don't we want the government to keep us safe? Lockdowns, check ins, face masks, and vaccinations are not evidence of a conspiracy to control and repress us. The purpose is to keep us safe. In my opinion to see more in it than that, is to enter the realm of paranoia.

I'm double vaccinated and will happily display by certificate before being granted entry into a restaurant. When I drive, I would like to know the other drivers are licensed, and it's no different in the restaurant, I would like to know if my fellow diners are also vaccinated. I want to be safe. Who doesn't?

I have friends who have been pushing various conspiracies theories on me, and others, since the pandemic turned the world upside down early in 2020. I've never bought into it and I'm not about to. I've seen fear take the steering wheel of so many people's lives. I'm not doing that either. I've never been afraid, nor will I be. I'll do what I'm told regarding COVID rules. I don't like the inconvenience and I am definitely not a fan of wearing a face mask, but I'm taking reasonable precautions and following the advice of experts to stay safe, including getting vaccination.

COVID conspiracies are snake oil.

Source: (1) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/466050/ 


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

A Dog's Eye: A Moving Story

Without wishing to downplay the stress involved in what happened, this is not a heartwarming, emotional post. It's a post about shifting: changing situations, attitudes, jobs, and addresses.


                                                     (unrelated cute dog photo to warm your heart)

If there has been one consistent theme to my prayers over the last 3-5 years, it has been peace and simplicity. These two things are not necessarily easy bedfellows, nor are they always found inhabiting reality. I would like a peaceful and simple life, but neither my choices nor the circumstances of my life - not all of which are the results of my choices - promote the achievement of that goal.

I'm forcing myself to write this because I haven't written for a while. I found a slot on Sundays before church in which I was regularly adding content to this blog. Two Sundays ago, we moved house which meant I not only didn't write but I wasn't able to attend church. Last Sunday, I was too tired which has become normal for me these days because I am having to get up ridiculously early to go to work.


                                                https://www.vox.com/2014/11/10/7184149/social-jetlag-sleepy

Wait a minute, I hear you say. You're a writer. Why do need to get up before Sparrows to go to work? You set your own hours, so why not get up later to give yourself sufficient sleep? Alas, being a full time writer remains a dream for me, albeit one which I am pursuing with much more focus and vigour than I have previously done.

We've got bills to pay so I thought a part time delivery job would help, particularly as working AM shifts means I am free to write in the afternoons. I don't work every day at this delivery job which I've been doing for a month now, so I have full days which I can devote to writing. Theoretically.

Yesterday, I had 'all day 'for example, but I spent three hours trying to do something unrelated to work; a home project to help my wife. It would not have been so bad had I actually been successful, but I failed miserably which left me thinking I had wasted half a day. So much can happen every day; thousands of other needful things, distractions and interruptions all working against my plan. 

Speaking of thousands of things, it's incredible how every day at the delivery job throws up new challenges. It's much more difficult than I thought it was going to be, and I'm certain I will grow to hate doing it before too long. However, I prayed for a job, searched for jobs, applied for many, and this is the one I got. It's not all bad. I love meeting people, chatting on porches, driving around the Illawarra enjoying the beautiful scenery, and of course, I enjoy getting paid.

The problem is I can't shake the nagging doubt that it's taking me away from where my focus should be. Writing. At times it seems like there is a conspiracy operating against me. Even my own energy levels aren't supporting me in pursuing my dream. I feel stuck, and unsure what to do.

We didn't want to move from Albion Park Rail and it was a monumental hassle; not to mention stressful as we had a very short time to find a new home and make it all happen. Despite the pain and inconvenience, we are definitely better off. The new house is better situated, bigger, and cheaper. I've even got an office. What a luxury to have my own room in which to work. Sure, I don't have any furniture apart from a camping chair and a large carton which is serving as a desk, but I have the space and the space will be filled in due course.

Lockdown has finally ended, so my wife has been able to resume her hairdressing and massage business. She's happy, so I'm happy. Things just keep on changing and I keep on adjusting, remembering to always remain thankful, but it isn't quite how I want it to be.

Out of necessity, I deliberately override my feelings, and try to move into the right space - the right metaphorical space - by being positive and refusing to let go of the dream.

I say it often because I believe it. There is always hope. Everything is temporary, everything passes in time. The biblical injunction to give thanks in all circumstances and to rejoice always requires discipline. Living by faith means sometimes ignoring one's feelings and choosing to see things the way God sees them. I said everything is temporary, but things of the spirit are not. God is not. He doesn't change. I can trust him because he's good and he's proven himself faithful to me.

Money is tight. My freelance writing career is in a trough. I have no money to advance my personal writing projects. I'm doing a job I don't really like in order to pay off a large and long standing debt as well as contribute to rent, food and other household expenses. It doesn't feel right nor does it look right, but I have no sense that it is not right.

I'm going to watch television now and come back to this tomorrow after I deliver groceries, then come home and take a nap. On we go. Did I move you?

Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Mirror: Cinderella

Cinderella is an old story which has been retold and reimagined in various ways, hundreds of times, most notably in movies. Last night we watched the latest adaption of this very well known and much loved fairy tale. I'll have more to say about the film in a moment, but first to satisfy your curiousity, as I needed to satisfy mine, let's go back. From where did the hyper romantic fairy tale of Cinderella originate?

While versions of this classic story date back to 6th century Greece and 9th century China, the English version with which we are familiar has its roots in Charles Perrault's Cendrillon which was published in 1697. Nowadays we use the term 'Cinderella story' to refer to any story in which a nice, deserving person, finally has something good happen to them. It might be marrying a prince or it might be winning a world heavyweight boxing crown such as was achieved by James. J. Braddock in 1935. Braddock's inspirational rags to riches story was depicted in Ron Howard's 2005 film, Cinderella Man. 

The story appeals to us because it is the stuff of dreams. Who doesn't want to find their true love? Who doesn't want to be rich? Who doesn't want to be a champion? For most of us, riches and glory are for other people to have and for us to imagine having. While we may not dream of being a world champion, a rock superstar, a movie star, president, prime minister or king, we all have dreams. There are things we want to achieve, metaphorical mountains we want to climb. Life is characterised by struggle and there is meaning in the struggle, but we want to win. We want to overcome. If we can't do it, or if it seems too far away, we don't give up, and at the very least we can vicariously enjoy the victories of others. When Cinderella marries the prince, she not only finds true love, but is released from poverty and mistreatment. From having nothing but her dreams, she now has everything she ever wanted and more. Her success makes us feel good, but more than that, it gives us hope.

Cinderella 2021 stars Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver as King and Queen leading a cast of relative unknowns in a whimsical musical adaption of the Cinderella story. It featured some nice twists and some terrific songs, like Somebody to Love and Ed Sherrin's Perfect. Although it felt a little awkward at times - a fault of the writing mostly, but also some of the acting - Cinderella had some truly magical moments. Sure, it was corny and predictable, but as far as warm and fuzzy goes, it was a winner in my eyes. It was also genuinely funny in places, and featured in my opinion the best ever Fairy Godmother, played brilliantly by Billy Porter.

Feel good 'Cinderella' stories are important to us because they give us hope and they help us to keep on believing, to keep our dreams alive.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

relationDips: Why I don't argue

My wife insists on washing all fresh food, including pre packed meat before she eats it, or uses it to cook. Even after washing, she is suspicious of skin and will peel it off: even grapes. All traces of soap must be rinsed off the dishes before they are considered clean. Frequent handwashing is normal, and was normal before COVID. Now before you insensitively start labelling her a clean freak, let me tell you there's good reason for all that. She comes from a place where the standards of personal cleanliness are higher because they must be. Unsafe food handling and preparation by businesses from markets to groceries to restaurants put customers at risk. The detergent used to wash dishes isn't safe, dangerous chemicals are used in food production, and you can't drink water from the tap. As I said, she has good reason to be careful.

I've spent most of my life not giving a toss about these things. In Australia, which is one of the most heavily regulated nations in the world, we take it for granted that we can drink water straight from the tap. If the bag of veggies in the supermarket has a label saying 'pre washed and ready to serve', we accept that.

Since marrying my Top End Angel, I take more care. I wash apples before I eat them, I rinse all (most) of the detergent off the dishes, and I wash my hands...often. I don't do these things because I think they are necessary. They are not. However, my wife thinks they are necessary. She wants to keep herself and her loved ones safe. I could argue the point every time she tells me to wash my hands after I already washed my hands or get upset at her for getting upset with me for not washing the chicken breast before I used it to make the tacos she won't eat. I could contest everything, attempt to change her mind, and try to win every argument, but why would I do that?

We've had very few arguments in our short marriage and while that's partly due to our complementary personalities, it's also due to the fact that over the years I've learned something about arguments.

  • Nobody wins arguments.
  • Arguments don't get the expected results.
  • Arguments expose character flaws.
  • Pride is the chief cause of arguments.
  • Arguments don't build strong relationships.

As a result of these lessons, I avoid arguments. Don't get me wrong though. It happens to almost everyone. None of us are perfect and there are times when we either start arguments or needlessly get involved in them, even ones which have nothing to do with us. But, what is the point?

I could argue with my wife about her over the top cleanliness, but I know she's coming from a good place. She loves me and wants to look after me. Why would I resist that? I could argue with my children, but I know they are not interested in truth or in doing what is right or sensible, so I tell them what to do. If they don't do what they're told, they know the consequences. There's no point arguing about it.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing about arguments is they cause division. This is equally true in your home as it is in the COVID world. People are arguing about the vaccinations, the lockdowns, the restrictions, but I don't get involved in those arguments. The government is coming from a good place, not trying to ruin my life or control me, but trying to keep me safe...just like my wife is trying to keep me safe at home. Some of us respond to the government, to our bosses, even to our family and friends like rebellious teenagers do to their parents.

There are and always will be people with whom I disagree, but I am not interested in having arguments with them. I'm not going to expend energy trying to change people's minds. I have friends who fervently believe COVID is a conspiracy, and that the vaccination passport is a sign of the end of the world. I've been double vaccinated, but I have friends who are refusing vaccinations on the grounds that they are potentially harmful and/or part of some sinister government plot against freedom. We can stay friends because I am not interested in having an argument. I disagree with them, but I'm not going to start a fight about it.

Whether it's a global pandemic or a family meal, I don't argue. Of course, many things need to be discussed, some of which are important, some not, but if you aren't sure of the difference between a discussion and an argument, consider the list above. Ask yourself a few questions before, during, and after the conversation. You'll figure it out.

The most important question is this: Do you want to have good, healthy relationships or do you want to be right all the time?


Saturday, September 11, 2021

A Dog's Eye: Freelancer v Upwork Part 2

As I write this, things have been quiet on both platforms. I haven't got a new client on Freelancer for months, nor done any work for existing clients since a disagreement over what I considered to be unreasonable demands. When my client asked me to have another attempt at rewriting a document, I said no and that was our last communication.

I know you have to start somewhere but how long was I prepared to work for the equivalent of around $10 an hour? Many of the clients on Freelancer offer even less money and are running, in my mind, what amounts to writer sweatshops. It becomes increasingly hard to get motivated to work for half a cent a word when you have other clients paying you four times as much.


As I said, my last communication with a client on Freelancer ended badly, but most of the communication with clients on that platform was bad, period. I've lost count of how many times a chat was opened as a result of my job proposal being excepted, only to end with either a sudden and inexplicable refusal to continue the chat, or a request to continue the discussion off site (which is against Freelancer rules). I've never had such problems on Upwork. The instant messaging on Freelancer is like Messenger or Hangout. Upwork is similar. Both provide notifications and allow attachments. The only real problem with either is a human one: the universal problem of poor communication. I could give examples, but this post is about the platforms, not the clients.

Both Freelancer and Upwork take commissions. Upwork takes 20% for your first $500 of earnings which is steep, really steep, but if you're any good, you should be able to quickly move, as I have, into the next bracket which goes up to $10,000. Upwork takes 10%. It's still a lot but I take comfort from the fact that most transactions are in US dollars. so I always get more when it converts to AUD. Once you go over $10,000, Upwork's commission drops to 5% which to me is about right, given Upwork does not do any work. They simply provide a platform for work to take place. They're a business and the have to make money, but 20% or even 10% is gouging in my opinion.

Freelancer is worse. They charge a flat rate of 11% irrespective of the size of the job or how much you've earned from Freelancer clients. For both hourly charge projects and fixed prize projects, it's 11%. And it gets worse. Large fixed price projects are divided into milestones. Freelancer takes a cut of 11% for every payment made to the freelancer. So a project with three milestones will see you paying the 11% three times. Again, I make the point that I'm not begrudging the charging of commissions. Freelancer is a business, and businesses are first and foremost about making money. They all advertise how much they are about helping people, but they are profit making businesses.

Upwork uses a bond system whereby clients have to fund work before freelancers begin work. The system is easy to follow. A client funds a milestone, the freelancer begins work then submits the deliverable at which time the client releases the payment. If the client is not happy with the work and decides to cancel the contract, they request a refund of their bond. It's a good, secure system with which I have had no trouble. Freelancer has no such system nor is there much security. it's more a trust based set up. I've had trouble with this. A client did not pay me after I submitted work. They also stopped communicating with me. This leads me directly to the last thing I want to discuss: dispute resolution.

When I lodged a dispute with Freelancer about the client not paying me. they basically said they couldn't help and they didn't. After much to-ing and fro-ing, they said it was my fault for trusting the client. I've had lots of other dealings with Freelancer support, including reporting bogus jobs, but they are not supportive. This could be a snake oil post. The help desk does respond to complaints but they don't do anything. They say they'll look in to it, but either they don't or they come back with some denial about the problem existing. Apart from the fact there is hardly any genuine work on Freelancer, they overcharge freelancers, and most of the clients run sweatshops for non-native speakers of English, the lack of support from Freelancer support is the main reason I'm leaving. I have no faith in the platform.

I've had one minor issue on Upwork whereby a client broke off contact after paying me but didn't leave a review for me. Upwork said they couldn't do anything. Fair enough. If  a person is uncommunicative, what would I expect Upwork to do? Go and knock on their door?

Overall, with a lower fee structure, a safer payment system, an easier to use website, better quality clients and more work, I feel much more confident and happy using Upwork.

I wonder what Fiverr is like.


Saturday, September 4, 2021

A Dog's Eye: Freelancer v Upwork

Starting a new business is not easy, especially when you're not a business oriented person. For me the 'business' of writing is nowhere near as fun as actual writing. It has its moments of course, but rather than being 'writing' moments, such times are the fruit of writing and/or the fruit of the business of writing.

As a 'nobody' novelist, the business of writing is all about selling books: marketing, to find readers, while as a short story writer, it's all about the search for markets, trying to find publishers. On the other hand, the business of writing for a freelancer is all about getting clients.

Irrespective of the specific target of my writing/business of writing endeavours, the bottom line goal is to meet needs, to satisfy demands.

Which brings me to Upwork and Freelancer. How have these two platforms met my need to find clients? How are they supporting me to build my freelance writing business?

Profile creation 

Not much difference between the two. It's relatively straight forward to create a basic profile on both. However, the Upwork website looks cleaner, more professional, and is easier to navigate than Freelancer.

Membership 

Freelancer charges a monthly fee for membership at different levels. I'm on a basic membership plan which allows me to bid for 50 jobs per month for $13. For an additional fee, you can take a grammar test which if you pass adds 20% value to your profile. I refused to do that. They also offer to boost your proposals for a fee. There are a number of other allegedly useful services which also requirement payment.

Upwork gives you Connects to use to pay for bids when you sign up. Proposals cost from 2 to 6 Connects. When you run out of Connects, you can purchase more in packages starting from $3 for 10 Connects. If you respond to an invitation or interact with a client, Upwork also gives you free Connects. In other words you get rewarded for being active. It's been two months since I purchased any Connects on Upwork.

Bidding

Freelancer has two channels for finding jobs, one of which is a drop down of the very latest jobs. Initially I thought this was great. As there is a lot of competition for jobs, it makes sense to bid on the most recently advertised jobs as soon as you can. In practice, it is not as useful as it seemed. When doing a traditional job search, you can't save jobs. You can't attach any documents to your bids and Freelancer also limits how low you can bid which means in many cases you won't get the job because obviously clients will select the lowest bids. The other problem is Freelancer doesn't tell you when you've already bid on a job. It's difficult to keep track of what you're doing, and what you've done, on Freelancer.


Upwork only has a traditional job search, but you can save jobs you like, then go to your saved jobs and work through them one by one, to send a proposal or not. Upwork also limits your bottom bid, but on some jobs you also have an option to bid an hourly rate or a milestone rate. For example, it's $40 an hour or $250 for the job, divided into three milestone payments of $50 + $100 + $100. Upwork notifies you when a job you have bid on is no longer available. It's very easy to keep track of what your doing in terms of job searching and bidding on Upwork.

Next time, I'll talk about the communication functions of the two platforms, payments, dispute resolution, and the quality and volume of the work.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

A Dog's Eye: Freefaller

I stepped off the edge, but I didn't fall. Was it a miracle? Was it luck? Was it, in fact what I had suspected all along? That if I surrendered my right to financial security based on working 9 to 5 for a wage, I would survive? 


On April 8 this year I was made redundant. My role as lead teacher was identified by management as one which was unnecessary. I was no longer required. I couldn't help feel, as I still do, that the decision to deem my position surplus to requirements cast a pall on everything I had done during my two and half years with the company. It doesn't mean my contributions had no value, but it's difficult not to see it that way.

Losing my job was a good thing. Even though I enjoyed most aspects of the work, and of course I loved the regular pay packet and the associated tax benefits of working for a not-for-profit organisation, I wanted to leave. I had been praying for a way out.

Ever since I was gifted an old 486 computer, in 1998, and made the subsequent decision that I wanted to be a writer, I have been dreaming of achieving that goal. Of course, I could never pursue that dream full time. For mostly financial reasons, my writing remained a hobby, until April 8, 2021.

The time had come. I once dreamed of being a professional writer, of earning my living exercising my brain and my imagination by tapping on the keyboard of my laptop. Now I dream of more. I am a writer. Although it has taken some time to get used to, I now tell people when they ask what I do. I tell them I am a writer. Thanks for asking, I say then I give them one of my business cards. I'm a writer, but I'm not earning a living...not yet. I'm in a kind of freefall. Financially untethered.

I have six novels and scores of published short stories under my belt, but I've only made pocket money from these works. I have a memoir which is nearly ready to be published, and I've almost finished the first draft of what will be my seventh novel. My most recent short story will feature in an upcoming anthology. This is one aspect of my writing, one half, if you like, of my work as a writer. These are my projects. They bear my name. They carry my hopes. These are the projects will fuel my creative fire.

The other half is the new world of freelance writing: content articles, short stories, longer works of fiction, non fiction books, and even speeches. I get paid for them but none of these works bear my name because I'm a ghostwriter. Someone else gets the glory. I do get paid way more than I've ever earned from those pieces which bear my name though. It's not regular pay either, and mostly it's not big money and a lot of it is just work. The passion I feel for my work is missing with this ghostwriting work. It's just work.

The two platforms I've been using to find freelance writing work since I began my freefall are Upwork and Freelancer. Yesterday I made the decision to leave Freelancer. I apologize for teasing you. I did say in my previous post that I would discuss the differences between these two platforms in this post. However, when I sat down to write, I was carried away to another place. Not far away mind you. Not the bottom of the cliff from which I stepped off. I'm not going to reach the bottom, by the way. I'm on the way up because God caught me soon after I yielded to gravity. I'm safe, even though I don't always feel safe, I am.

I'm a freelancer. I'm a writer. My decisions are based on that fact now. How does this or that support my quest to return to my previous income level, or higher, on the back of my writing? That's the question.

Why have I dumped Freelancer? Why do I much prefer Upwork? How is my journey from hobby writer to professional going? Next time, I promise to lay it all out for you.