Category Archives: General Ruminations

Is it really the end of email?

According to this Wall Street Journal article it is. It says people are becoming so used to communicating through Twitter and FaceBook (soon to be joined by Google Wave), but I think it is like the proverbial "jumping the gun". Of course I’m not denying that you can communicate faster using Twitter and FaceBook and some things you don’t even have to communicate through emails because you have already posted an update, there is nothing like "we’re always connected". I, for example, am not. Today I haven’t checked my Twitter and FaceBook streams simply because I was too busy working and replying to important email messages. If you are always connected one thing or the other keeps disturbing you and you cannot focus on work. It’s BS when people say they’re more productive when they are constantly checking Twitter and FaceBook updates and posting responses.

Of course you can get constant email updates if you’re using some sort of notifier (I sometimes use Gmail notifier or GoogleTalk to get instant email notifications) but it’s not like Twitter and FaceBook. When I’m in work mode and when I’m waiting for client response I’m not interested in knowing what sort of coffee you’re having or what’s the latest political gaffe the government is committing (I’m not saying these things are unimportant).

People immediately started discounting blogs when Twitter and FaceBook caught on but such a trend was obvious. It is so easy to post small messages and amusing links on social networking websites but writing a blog post on a continuous basis is difficult. The popularity of blogs hasn’t diminished, it’s just that fewer people are trying their hands at blogging because it’s easier to share thoughts on Twitter and FaceBook.

The problem with Twitter and FaceBook is that they are not as personal as an email. Things that you used to share with a select few are shared by everybody following you or befreinding you unless you take extra pains to exclude some people. In fact, this is the big difference in email and social networking apps: in email you have to include people if you want to communicate with them. On Twitter and FaceBook you have to exclude them — physically — if you don’t want to communicate with them. They’re more public. Email is private, and it is not going to go away easily. May be the form will change, but it’s here to stay for at least a few more years.


My experience with Linux, especially Ubuntu

I have a geekish streak that is perpetually lurking in my subconscious and comes to the surface twice or thrice a year.  This is a time when I normally, completely destroy my system and almost lose my computer files (fortunately I have always been able to save them eventually for I have some files as old as 1999). For a few months I have been playing around with Ubuntu, perhaps the most advanced version of the Linux operating system in terms of user interface.  As it normally happens, I ended up obliterating my hard disk partitions. Being an experienced computer user (yeah, of course!), I took full backups before starting to install Ubuntu.

After wasting a few days and spending some money somehow I managed to install both Windows XP and Ubuntu on my laptop.  Every week I spend a couple of hours working in Ubuntu, especially when my wireless connection conks under Windows XP.  In Ubuntu, I can easily check my e-mails, send replies, work on my documents and occasionally write blog posts.  For instance, I am writing this blog post in Ubuntu.

Why did I want to switch to Ubuntu when everything was working perfectly fine in Windows XP?  In fact some of the software that they use in Windows XP is far superior than the Ubuntu alternatives both in terms of graphical user interface and functionality.  My first reason was that Windows XP is quite slow and it crashes often. On top of this I had been reading for months what a great time Ubuntu users are having with no crashes reported for months, no need to reboot the system, stability and reliability, and a great interface. Anyway, here are a few observations of mine regarding Ubuntu:

  • Great interface of course and I love the way Ubuntu renders fonts. For many weeks I have been trying to make Windows XP render fonts the way Ubuntu does but haven’t succeeded yet.
  • Ubuntu recognized all my hardware on its own and my wireless networking connection never stops the way it does in Windows XP.
  • I haven’t used it much, but Ubuntu has never crashed.  Of course there are many programs that have crashed, but Ubuntu is not affected by that.
  • Ubuntu is definitely not as easy to set up as many people on the Internet claim.  Be prepared to have nightmares. It is not for the fainthearted, at least not yet.
  • Windows programs, as claimed, can work if you install Wine on Ubuntu, but my experience has been horrible.
  • Not everything is graphical user interface.  If you are a power user then you will have to resort to some command line operations and this may involve lots of research on the Internet.
  • Don’t switch to Ubuntu if you are a busy person, at least not yet (I am a busy person but my geekish doppelganger sometimes overtakes my judgment and it always culminates into a disaster).
  • Windows XP doesn’t seem all that bad once you have spent a few days banging your head against the wall and trying to make Ubuntu perform even the simplest of tasks such as recognizing and mounting another partition.

A new version of Ubuntu is going to be released next month and I hope things will improve.  I am very much open to switching to Ubuntu but there are many crucial applications that I use under Windows XP that simply refuse to work in Ubuntu.

I wrote this blog post after reading 25 Reasons to convert to Linux.


Why so much mistrust among clients from Asia and especially from Third World countries?

First of all this is neither a rant nor a complaint, it is just an observation and I would like to get opinions from my fellow freelancers. Although I live in India, I am an Indian, it is very rarely that I end up doing assignments from Asian as well as Indian clients. It’s not that I don’t accept the work. First of all there are very few clients who really appreciate experienced writers because here whoever can write, thinks that he or she can also write for his or her website or, brochure, so why pay a writer? And even if they hire, they don’t want to pay you much because after all you are just writing, you are not doing any work.

Among the ones who understand the importance of good writing, never seem to understand my need to charge an advance. They think I am going to disappear after taking the advance or I am not going to put enough effort after I have got money from them.

95% of my work comes from Europe and America and clients from these countries almost always pay an advance and they even pay for the sample if they ask for one. So I was just wondering, after a recent incident, why clients generally from Asia and particularly from India, are not eager to pay an advance and why there is so much mistrust. Instead of repeatedly saying Asia I will simply refer to Indian clients.

Indians are really hard-working and they love to follow rules, only when they are in some other country. In India they work hard only when lots of personal interest is at stake and given a chance, they’d rather while away the time, even if they have been paid to work at that time. If nobody is there to supervise them or monitor their activities, they leave the office early, they spend hours having tea, surfing the net, having lunch, gossiping, and doing everything under the sun accept for the activity for which they are being paid. And this is not confined to a particular section of the society; from top executives to the laborer breaking rocks by the side of the road, everybody skips work given a chance. People work hard not to grow, they work hard when they have no choice.

Since they spend their lives like this, they suspect everybody does that, and this is the reason why they don’t like paying an advance, especially to an Indian freelancer, because they think one only works when one is trapped. They think that to get small amount of money without having to do any work is much better than getting lots of money by working hard. That’s why almost 100% clients detest paying an advance.

There is also this problem of control. I have no problem sharing this observation with you, and I’m sure many people from India will agree, an average Indian is a typical school bully. He or she cowers in front of the strong and harasses the one at a disadvantage. When they hire you they are immediately condescending. They think they are doing you a big favor by giving you work because they very conveniently assume that you are desperate to get some work and your life hinges upon their acceptance. So when they are talking to you they already have this funny, childish, haughty tone, and on top of that, if you commit the chutzpah of asking an advance, they are totally offended and consider you an ungrateful chap. Most of them all of a sudden realize that they don’t actually require a writer, especially an ungrateful writer who doesn’t trust them. These are not the dangerous ones.

There are those who know that they need a writer, who despise the thought of paying you an advance, and eventually, they don’t intend to pay you even long after you have completed the work. These are the dangerous types and you should avoid them if you’re not desperate; you’d rather do the work for free (but don’t tell them because this will offend them because they can easily afford to pay 10 writers like you ). They feel good that you are stuck with them for a long time. You have worked hard, you have worked for many days, and now your payment depends on their whim. They will make you feel ashamed of yourself for calling again and again for such a small amount. Fortunately I haven’t worked for such clients for many years.

Jokes apart, this is primarily the reason why people here don’t believe in paying an advance. They don’t respect their own time and commitment and therefore they don’t respect yours too.


The effect of blogging — Salman Rushdie cost me a project

Yesterday, a client was on the verge of giving me a big assignment when he asked, "are you a fan of Salman Rushdie?", and I enthusiastically said, "yes!"

"Then we cannot work together," he replied.

"But shouldn’t ideologies and business be kept apart unless something really sinister is happening?" I asked.

"No, I cannot work with you if you endorse his views and protest against the fatwa against him," he said.

After that we exchanged a few messages and then stopped talking (we were using Skype).  He was interested in knowing how I was building backlinks and somehow discovered my posts where I had lamented the ban on "Satanic Verses", the fatwa and praised Salman Rushdie.

It happens many times that I don’t get a project due to various incompatibilities but it is the first time that it has happened due to something that I had written on my blog. I know there have been many people who lost their jobs or even got subjected to persecution (mainly in Arab/Muslim and communist countries) due to their blogs so I wasn’t really taken aback, but it was quite fascinating actually talking to a person who supports the beheading of a writer simply because that writer holds a different view on a religious book.

I wanted to talk to that client more about religion and religious beliefs but I thought maybe he won’t understand so I refrained myself.  Somewhere he said that religions that don’t protect themselves and don’t eliminate their enemies vanish easily. I wanted to tell him that only scared and unsure religions react in such a manner.  Take for instance Hinduism.  It is not an extremist religion and there is lots of scope for analysis, argumentation and counter argumentation.  Nobody comes for your head if you question fundamental Hindu beliefs.  It is one of the major religions of the world and there are still thousands of people converting to this religion every year.  Okay, this is an ancient religion, so let us talk about Sikhism.  Sikhism is just 300 years old and it is getting stronger every passing day without fanaticism and extremism. Sikhs don’t raise a hue and cry at the drop of a hat.  They never feel targeted, marginalized and victimized and their religion is never endangered, and they are practically all over the world. There is a funny saying that crows and Sikhs are everywhere.  There are some random acts of extremism here and there but then they are present in every religion, even among the Buddhists, perhaps the most peaceful and embracing religion in the world.

Anyway, I also remember telling him that I am not going to be apologetic about what I had written on my blog because I firmly believed in that.  Is it the right way to do?  Should I have downplayed my blog post and tried to convince him that I didn’t mean what I had written on my blog?  I don’t think so.  Just as his belief stopped him from working with me my belief stopped me from  working with him; again, why would I work with a person who supports the call for the beheading of another person simply because he has different views?  Wouldn’t I be then working for a psychopath? Fine, even someone among my past and existing clients could turn out to be a psychopath (clients, please accept my apology, I’m just saying this to put a point across) but there is a saying in Hindi — I’m not sure whether it exists in English or not — that you cannot swallow a fly knowingly.


Taking up assignments that are not in my field

Of late – for the past 5 odd months – I have been taking assignments that I haven’t mentioned on this website, for instance designing and developing websites and setting up content management systems such as Joomla and PHPNuke. These assignments are so not content writing. But they earn me some good money, some quick money. The amount of money that I make writing content for say, 5 projects, I can make the same amount with just one project of designing a website. You might wonder then why the hell do I write content instead of making websites?

I used to make websites a few years ago and in fact only those people approach me for web designing and development work who somehow know that I used to make websites. I wrapped up my web design and development business because my soul was not into it; I wanted to write. That is why I started providing content writing services to various clients. Back then I needed to heavily advertise using AdWords because very few people were looking for content writers and online copywriters. I don’t know why I never stopped learning the new web design and development techniques. So when people started creating CSS based layouts I also learned how to do that and when people started incorporating Ajax functionalities into their applications I also used them while working for one of my permanent clients. Maybe that is the reason; I have always been in touch with web design and development and I never work on a project half-heartedly even though my primary business is content writing.

There is another reason why I often get this work. When new clients approach me many times they are just starting a new website. So they ask me by any chance do I know a good web designer. I often reply that I don’t know any web designer but there are a few websites that I have designed and if they like those designs and if they are ready to pay what I am asking for maybe I can give it a try. This is how everything begins.

Especially these days I try to do as much work as I can because one is never sure of the prevalent economic conditions. Although I don’t prefer designing websites if they get me some good money in little time and I have to do something that I already know it becomes difficult for me to refuse. Does this mean I am ignoring my core business? I don’t know, maybe. On second thought, I think earning money and creating a backup is also essential for my content writing business. With enough money I don’t have to take up “desperate projects” and I can be choosy. I am still thinking about it.