I’d started this after thinking about it for a while, and the project is already starting to look like something.
The most recent entry in my blog circus is “Actively Creative,” directed toward the writer or musician or artist who wants to start doing it instead of just talking about it.
While The Column is, quite frankly, a not-terribly-organized blog covering everything under the sun (although I’m taking more of a baby-boomer angle to it lately), Actively Creative is a bit more strategic in its construction.
Every week I’m having a longer “pillar post” where I do the usual stuff: Free associate, tell stories, dispense a bit of skewed wisdom and bad jokes. I’ve been trying to schedule those for every Friday.
But the main feature is the regular “3 graffs” piece where I touch on a subject in, well, three paragraphs. I’ve been posting those daily since starting this project, only pausing when I was on the road (which is the subject of next Friday’s long post).
I’m having fun with the shorter posts. A little shoot-’em-up encouragement here, a little shoot-from the lip there. The whole idea behind the 3-graffs posts (for now) is, if you are a creative type, don’t just talk about it. Park your butt in front of your computer or easel or piano or blueprints or telephone and do something with it.
I’m told we’re all creative. I’ve seen it lately in the durnedest places. What’s interesting is, not everyone realizes it. And those who do, try to deny it or bury it if they want to live a “normal” life.
OK, most of us think of creativity as something reserved for artists, writers, musicians. But what about the guy who starts a company from scratch? The person who builds a computer program with nothing but an idea and the ability to code? The chef who experiments in the kitchen and is willing to eat the results? The construction worker who has to think his way around a problem on his job? Even the sales person who has to present the same old wine in a brand new wineskin?
If you think, if you dream, if you get strange ideas, Actively Creative may be right up your alley. Check it out.
Can’t get your work done without your email, right? Got to keep in touch, and email is still the preferred way for on-the-job communication, especially for messages too windy for a fast text message or obscenity-laced tirade from the boss.
Whoa. Email isn’t all that. The ease of communication and relative privacy — well, as opposed to the boss airing you out in front of everybody — means all sorts of things can be sent under the cover of corporate email. Which, I’m sure, surprises absolutely no one who works for a living.
According to computer scientists at Georgia Tech, one of every seven on-the-job emails contain scandal, innuendo and other office gossip. Who’s doing who. Who’s just waiting to get fired. Who the boss was getting pickled with at the Idle Hour after work. All that important stuff that is so crucial to the smooth running of the office.
When I saw that news story, I had to blink. My first thought was, that few?
Now, this doesn’t include the allegedly-funny cartoons that used to be printed out on the office copier and hand-delivered. This doesn’t include the sunshine-and-rainbows happy notes and quotes that the annoying office Pollyanna sent out to allegedly inspire the troops but have little to do with the real world (personal note: I like inspiring affirmations, too, but let’s keep things real here). This doesn’t include that goofy viral YouTube video of somebody’s dog escaping from the back yard by disabling the alarm system and phoning for a getaway cab or whatever it was he did. Shoot, you crank all that stuff in, I’d be amazed one in seven office emails are actually productive and have anything to do with the busines. I’m just talking office gossip here.
But, as these Georgia computer scientists say, not all email gossip is bad. It could be something as simple as determining who can attend a meeting, or who will cover for someone’s vacation.
“Gossip is generally how we know what we know about each other,” said Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Eric Gilbert. “For this study we viewed it simply as a means to share social information.”
But negative gossip (use your imagination here) outweighed positive gossip by a 2.7-to-one ratio, and some gossip was decidedly neutral.
Georgia Tech computer scientists checked “hundreds of thousands” of emails from one company to build this claim. Unfortunately, the company involved was … Enron.
Yeah, that Enron.
Interesting choice. I’m certain that company had a whole lot of office scuttlebutt floating through the email pipes and around the water cooler as it was being investigated. And maybe a lot of employees setting up job interviews elsewhere, or asking one another what time their state unemployment office opens.
The Georgia computer guys don’t feel they were stacking their numbers by choosing Enron, though.
“Enron certainly had what could be called a cowboy culture,” Gilbert says. “But I suspect the way they behaved internally to each other did not differ significantly from most other U.S. corporations.”
Gilbert didn’t say it, but I guess it’s easier to pick through the emails of a dead company than a living one.
While the rank and file exchanged most of the office scuttlebutt, but the vice presidents and directors exchanged plenty of it too. But while most of the lower-level employees only spread the office “news” among themselves (save the occasional brown-noser, of course), the vice presidents tended to gossip up and down the food chain, to the CEO and to the grunts.
If you’re a security officer, all I can say is … I feel your pain.
This is according to a site called CareerBliss, which ranked the top 20 happiest and 20 unhappiest jobs you can work. And the security guard’s post is, well, right at the bottom of the dungpile.
I guess it depends on where you work, too. I’ve never worked a security gig myself. But in my days as a casino employee I got to know some of the security folks. Perhaps there are worse security beats than on a casino floor, and that town didn’t really have a police department. The security workers were the cops. Maybe that counts for something, because most of the casino security guys seemed to like their work. Or maybe you just had to be warped enough to handle it.
Factors such as pay, work environment and job resources (such as support) were considered in this study, which ranked non-top-executive jobs.
Registered nurses and teachers took the second and third unhappiest spots. Now, these are jobs that carry plenty of their own rewards (especially for the altruistic among you), but job support may be lacking and the pay probably not enough to compensate for all the work-related headache or heartache.
The happiest occupation, according to the study, is software quality assurance engineer. It’s gotta be the pay, right?
Strangely enough, others included in the happy-zone top 10 are customer service reps, administrative assistants, and accountants. And human resource managers.
OK. Definitely gotta be the pay. I can’t think of anything else.
“… I found out the hard way that when you import an MS Word document into a pagination program like PageMaker, you need to strip out the formatting, the so-called “garbage characters.” Again, straight ASCII — saving it in a .txt format — is the best bet here. Plus, when you send a word-processing document by email, you’d better hope the recipient uses the same software as you …”
One of the things that took some getting used to was how active my Android phone gets. It makes noise and vibrates when I get a phone call, an email or a text message. Considering my own online/offline activity — not even counting all those alarms I set to keep my ADHD self on track, that’s a lot of vibrating.
So you can imagine my surprise when I felt my belt vibrate over my right hip, and when I checked it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t for anybody. It didn’t ring or vibrate at all. The phone sat inert in the belt pouch, and I only imagined the vibrations.
Welcome to the phenomenon called “phantom vibration,” which a study by the University of Worcester suggests is a sure sign you’re getting goofy about your phone.
It’s akin to those phantom pains amputees talk about, where a nonexistent foot itches or develops muscle spasms. Purely psychological stuff, and hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it.
Shoot, I feel enough like an idiot when someone else’s phone rings and I’m sure it’s mine. I’ve experienced enough of that to realize I get a little obsessed about that phone.
But when there’s no phone ringing anywhere near me, that’s when I know things are bad. What’s even worse is when I feel that vibration over my hip — while the phone is in my hand.
Turns out I’m not the only one who experiences this. I brought the subject up over dinner with a few good friends, all technophiles who would sooner leave the house without their pants than forget their phones. And all of these friends nodded knowingly when I mentioned phantom vibrations. The discussion became a heavy confession time for a few, and you’d swear a recovery group broke out right then and there. Lots of sympathizing but no solutions, but that’s normal. Like they say in recovery groups, we’re not trying to fix anything.
This study, as cited in the UK Telegraph, says workers who are issued a smart phone for on-the-job use, especially feel the stress that seems to trigger these phantom vibrations. They feel they’re not checking their messages often enough.
Psychlogist Richard Balding of the University of Worcester (why is it the British get to do all the cool research?) says it’s a stress thing — stress if you’re getting messages, and stress if you’re not.
According to the Telegraph:
” … this became a vicious cycle in which the more stressed people became, the more they compulsively felt the need to check their phone, the study showed … Balding, who led the research, said employers should seriously consider the burden that smart phones put on their workers … ‘Smart phone use is increasing at a rapid rate and we are likely to see an associated increase in stress from social networking,’ Balding said.”
(Note to employees everywhere: If your company issues you a smart phone, run like your hair’s on fire. Or negotiate a massive salary/wage increase. Your life is no longer your own.)
Others who use their smart phones as their link to social media may also feel the stress of always being “on,” or the anticipation of another message. Hey, if you get a text from Publishers Clearinghouse saying you’d won a few million bucks, you sure don’t want to miss it.
It’s crucial I stay in contact with the outside world. I do some social media stuff but it’s not a big part of my life. It’s not job-related, at least not related to my day job. But as I try to build something of a business on my own, contact is essential. It might not exactly be Ed McMahon calling from whatever realm he’s hanging out at these days, but potential customers and contacts have me keeping an eye on the phone. My own obsessive nature doesn’t help much either, but we won’t discuss that here.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t have even bothered running it. Blog comments of this type are usually deleted as soon as they come to my attention, and they’re marked with a spam tag to block the sender. I don’t fool around.
But I kept it because it indicates exactly what is going on in the writing world. It shows where online writing went so terribly wrong. It begged for a snarkier-than-thou response, and I was only too happy to oblige.
To a short post about technical matters, I received a comment. OK. I love comments. Please, bring ’em on (keeping in mind the caveats outlined in the second graf). I prefer dialogue to monologue, so fire at will.
In this case the commentor asked if I needed any help in producing the blog, and offered a solution. Through his website he advertised a stable of third-world writers, all willing to string words together for $1 per hour. With the SEO treatment, meaning my Web content would be structured to goose the search engines, direct more eyeballs to my sites, point fingers toward the cool advertising I have, and make me a pantload of money.
It wasn’t too long ago that the gold standard for freelance writing was better than $1 per word, and even hire-out work started at around $20 or $30 per hour. That is and always has been an on-paper number, though. We writers — in fact artists in general — are a funny lot, cognizant that “getting your foot in the door” is the common practice.
I’m doubly blessed in the creativity department, or maybe doubly cursed. Not only am I a writer, but I’m also a musician. I’ve done both for money for at least a couple of decades. While I’m not near this so-called “big time,” I have enough of a reputation in both fields that folks know I mean business. But writing and music — and probably the other arts — a practitioner has more opportunities to work for free than any of the so-called “legitimate” professions.
Let’s say you’re a car mechanic. Sure, you may do an apprenticeship or spend time tuning brake drums at a community college, but you’re not going to work for free. You don’t work for exposure. You don’t work for love. You work for that stuff that makes your checking account giggle. If you’re a doctor, you’re not going to rip out some guy’s appendix for free. Sure, the money may come from someone else’s wallet — the taxpayers instead of the patient — but you’ll still get paid. In cash, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
OK. Part of an auto mechanic’s rates, and certainly a piece of a doctor’s fee, helps to make up for that apprenticeship/schooling time. This makes sense. But a musician spends many hours mastering his instrument, breaking guitar strings, buying CDs so he can learn some technique. A writer buys books, computer software, maybe some space in a few writer’s conferences, and if he’s an old guy like me has probably burned through many typewriter ribbons and reams of paper. The apprenticeship is done in low-paying gigs to hone the chops, some pro-bono work, and — yes, working for exposure.
That’s the background. Here’s the deal: While the buck-an-hour markets are still there, a distressing amount of work falls far below that. A well-known online phenomenon among us writers is the thing called the “content farm.” There are many of these: eHow, Demand Media Studios (which owns eHow), Break Studios, Textbroker, Examiner, and a handful of others. Some, like Demand, will pay a writer as soon as a piece is published. Others, like Examiner, do what is called “revenue share,” which is a nice way of saying they won’t pay you, but if they make money (through advertising), the writer makes money too.
Of the content farms, Demand Media Studios is probably the best I’ve seen. And I’ve written for them. There’s no great trick in burping out 400-500 words for between $15 and $18; do enough of those per week and you’ll make a decent wage. For a spell I made it my main means of support, and financially didn’t do too badly. But there’s something wrong with the equation here.
A typical $15 eHow piece, checking in at 500 words, will get you three cents a word. A 400-word piece at $18 per article in one of Demand’s better content channels, still comes down to less than a nickel a word. Which, last I looked, isn’t even close to a dollar per word.
There’s more. Check out some of the job ads in writer’s online publications and job boards, and you’ll see even more depressing rates. I’ve seen prices as low as $1 for a 500-word article, and the customer wants these articles in mass quantities. Now, there are people in third-world countries that may find these great wages, and easy to pull off if you write in your native tongue and run it through a translator. All the keywords Google recognizes may be there, so the search engines (which don’t read) love ’em. Readability, though, that’s a whole ‘nother deal.
This drives down the price of words in all forums, and it gives the customer the idea that writing is nothing more than typing real fast. Not so. There’s brain work involved, and brain work does not come cheap.
Anyway, here’s the original blog comment, with the website name altered only slightly:
Admin – could you use help with your website? Through our site you can find Outsourced Workers starting at $1/hour. They speak English, work flexible hours, and pride themselves on doing a quality job. There are Article Writers, Web Designers, Virtual Assistants, Email Response Handling, SEO Workers, & more. If interested we invite you to check out wescrewwritersgood.com . Thanks
And here is my response. Boy, did I have fun writing it. I felt all kinds of better after hitting the SEND button:
John — No, I’m not interested. The only reason I didn’t spam/delete your comment (or charge you for advertising space, as is my other option) was because I felt the need to reply. It is “services” like this that drive the price of freelance writing down to never-before-seen levels, and I will not be a party to that.
I guess there will be a market for wescrewwritersgood.com, though. There are plenty of folks who need cheap copy, maybe with lots of SEO to game the search engines, and really don’t care whether the copy gets read by human beings. Don’t count me among them, though.
Probably not good practice to encourage idiots like this, but it needed to be said, and it was wonderful catharsis.
Working for peanuts, or even for free is all right if you know about it beforehand. I’ll do pro-bono work in writing or music for a nonprofit that I would donate to anyway. I’d consider it for a literacy organization, animal rescue or something in mental health advocacy, for example. But don’t expect me to do free work for something like the American Civil Liberties Union. If the ACLU was crazy enough to call me up with some work I’d have to gut them. I’m talking about hourly rates that would scare a trial lawyer.
It’s true I’m working cheap when it comes to this blog. I don’t make anything off it. But I own every word I write (in contrast to the content farms where the writer signs off on all rights if he’s paid by the article). The Web domain, likewise mine, bought and paid for (thank you Mom and Dad, that Christmas gift check paid for it). I’m building a platform with this work, getting exposure on my own terms, creating an online portfolio. Any advertising revenue helps offset my miniscule expenses. Job offers have come from my blogging. And if I should choose to repackage some of my better blog entries in an ebook format to sell, all I need is the author’s permission and he’s easy.
This blog may be little more than a content farm at this juncture, but it’s my content farm. But I don’t need any dollar-an-hour help.
I have a real love-hate thing with computers. I use them every day and can make them do pretty much what I want. I do, however, get this occasional urge to take a chain saw to one.
As tech-savvy as I claim to be, I still get frustrated by computers. Despite my abilities with them, I still resent any inanimate object that claims it is smarter than I am. I get particularly irate when that inanimate object proves it, but then I have this thing about being the smartest guy in the room anyway.
Funny thing, that’s about what folks say I sound like at the computer. Something about worthless buckets of bolts, with threats of dumping salt water and/or a fistful of paper clips in its innards, and unintelligible grunts accompanied with the kind of faces my mother warned that might become my permanent expression if I persisted in making them.
But check it out. According to TrackVia, three out of every five people who work with computers (not including your Information Tech pros, as it’s debatable whether they’re really human) get upset enough to yell at their work machines, and almost 18 percent say the equipment is so bad they considered quitting their jobs.
That last is serious stuff, considering how weak the economy is. One would have to have compelling reason to quit a job these days.
Although I’ve been largely successful at eliminating profanity from my vocabulary (other anger manifestations, not so much) all my good intentions go out the door when the computer takes a minute longer to complete a process than I think it should. That’s when drunken longshoremen start asking me to clean up my language.
I’m told I talk to my computer a lot when using it, or maybe just talking to myself. Or so I’m told. I am not aware of this otherwise. My old coworkers at the Mohave County (AZ) Standard, Pam Wanner and Cullen West, swore that when real busy and in deep concentration, I’d growl at the terminal. That’s when everyone would back away from my desk, not always a bad thing in itself. I caught a lot of jokes about rabies shots back in those days.
I’d written about the handheld computers at work, and how frustrating they can be. When they bog down, the best thing is to wait on them, but this does not preclude me a) offering to dropkick the computer or b) telling a trucker it’s perfectly OK if he squashed that sucker flat as long as it looks like an accident.
In the past I’d dealt with old unpredictable Harris system typesetting terminals, the bomb icon on early (mid-1980s) Mac systems, and buggy Windows installations that ate my work files. Even my Linux system is not immune to my ire, but that’s what I get for using software that’s still in beta-testing mode.
I used to laugh at those who took their frustrations out on some electronic object. I’ll always remember the time, 20 years ago, when I worked in a casino and watched this old guy muttering at his video poker machine. Going on a mile a minute the whole time he sat there. I almost burst out laughing when he said something about a snowball in hell during his monologue. But that’s a whole different thing altogether. Video poker machines are out to get you anyway.
Talk to me: Do you scream at your computer on the job? What do you say, or am I better off not knowing? Are your rabies shots up to date? Use the comments section below.